Long-term aid vital for Yemen’s 'forgotten' crisis: Mercy Corps

Need to build skills for Yemen's youth for long-term future, warns NGO

Yemen risks becoming a “forgotten humanitarian crisis”, with food security, social cohesion and opportunities for youth the most pressing needs in the next few years, an aid expert has warned.

Immediate humanitarian aid and food is needed for Yemen’s suffering people caught up in a seven month conflict, but long-term development programmes must also be put in place now to guide Yemen away from a fragile future.

“Sadly, with the global media we tend to flit from one crisis hotspot to another. In the last few days Yemen has got very little media attention. The crisis in Yemen is not going away,” said Simon O’Connell, senior vice president, global partnerships, Mercy Corps. “We think social cohesion is an [urgent need in the next one or two years], creating positive relationships across groups inside Yemen.

“We need to address the country’s big youth demographic: how can we build skills that create opportunities for youth inside Yemen that also create a productive economic future that goes some way to generating stability dividends for the country?”

On 15 September, two senior UN special advisors condemned “the virtual silence” about the increasing impact on civilians of the escalating conflict in Yemen.

Since the conflict escalated in late March, the UN has documented more than 6,600 civilian casualties, including more than 2,000 deaths. The UN believes the real death toll to be much higher, however. In August the UN’s children’s agency warned the conflict had interrupted education for some 1.8 million children in the country.

O’Connell urged donors from around the world to make good on their pledges of assistance to Yemen and provide aid in a coordinated manner with UN agencies and NGOs to avoid duplication of efforts. “Sadly, if we look at humanitarian appeals globally, most appeals are very rarely funded above 35 to 40 per cent,” he added.

The conflict in the Arabian Peninsula country is just one of the complex crises to afflict the Middle East region, not least Syria, said O’Connell. As with the call to action in Yemen, Mercy Corps urges public and private sector donors not to ignore the long-term needs of populations even as the immediate humanitarian needs seem overwhelming. O’Connell advocates smarter investment in what he describes as ‘fragile environments’, where investment often fails to get at the underlying causes of conflict.

“[We need] investment around better governance systems, economic opportunity, community relationships and conflict mitigation,” he said.

Such long engagements are critical for programmes that seek to put countries on a more stable footing and build growth, and particularly those that target young people such as connecting youth with startup mentors, financial literacy and soft skills programmes, according to the NGO.

“All too often, multinational corporations focus on short-term, quick wins in line with boardroom reporting cycles,” said O’Connell. “[We need investment for] 10 to 20-year time horizons, not the traditional NGO operating environment of six, 12, or 24-month cycles.”

Mercy Corps is in talks with private sector firms in the region, such as Aramex and Crescent Enterprises, to address some of these challenges and welcomes new partnerships. He said there is “clear momentum and desire to invest in new geographies” among donors in the Gulf region.

The US-based NGO provides relief and development programmes in more than 40 countries globally, including providing relief to 2.5 million Syrians since the conflict started four years ago. Most recently, Mercy Corps sent a team of emergency responders to the Greek islands of Lesbos to help desperate refugees trying to reach Europe.

Photo credit: Matt Styslinger/ Mercy Corps