Political conflict is driving Yemen into the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. Over half of the Yemeni population is acutely food insecure due to the deliberate targeting of food supply and infrastructure. In order to end hunger and achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, international attention on the political nature of the crisis is required.
Yemen is facing the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. In late October, the UN reported that nearly 100,000 Yemeni children under the age of five are at the risk of dying because of hunger. Around 80 percent of the population depends on foreign aid, while millions are at the brink of famine. Yet, hunger in Yemen is no coincidence. Instead, it is caused by an exacerbated political conflict, in which the deliberate targeting of food supply infrastructure is used as a means of warfare. The humanitarian crisis is driven by national and international actors, which compete for political gains in the Yemeni civil war. Despite the dire conditions, the crisis has been neglected by international media.
In 2015, world leaders came together and introduced the Sustainable Development Goals as a comprehensive effort to reduce poverty and improve global livelihoods. Yemen, which has been declared the “poorest country in the Middle East”, was not on track to meet any of the SDGs and currently suffers severe development setbacks due to a devastating civil war. This war has caused the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, the biggest cholera outbreak in modern human history and a devastating famine. The conflict escalated when Shiite Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital Sanaa in late 2014 and early 2015. This forced the government as well as the newly elected president Hadi to flee the capital. An international coalition led by Saudi Arabia formed and is supporting the Hadi-government. Ever since, the coalition has blocked essential supplies and has deliberately targeted farms, agricultural industries and transport infrastructure. A UNDP report stresses that it would require two to three generations to recover to pre-conflict levels in development.
SDG 2 aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. In essence, this goal strives to promote food access, availability, use and stability in order to eradicate hunger. However, this can only be achieved if the fight against hunger is understood from a political perspective. The SDGs do not exist in a political vacuum, but rather, are fundamentally entwined with political agendas. This is exactly the case in the Yemen conflict: the crisis is a humanitarian disaster created by political interests. Hunger and famine are not simply caused by the lack of food, they are caused by military and political strategies. To respond to the crisis, an understanding of the political nature of the conflict is required.
The countries neighbouring Yemen are not the only ones with interests in the conflict. This is rather a global issue where many countries are involved in various ways. Moreover, some countries lack coherence between their policies, which affect the conflict negatively. For example, in 2019, Sweden donated 244 million krona for humanitarian aid in Yemen, making it among the biggest donors to the country. Paradoxically, Swedish arms are at the same time being used in the conflict. Since the beginning of the war, Swedish weapon companies have exported arms for 716 million krona to Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Jordan. All these are members of the international coalition. These arms are used to uphold the strategic naval and air blockades hindering access to food and essential goods. Therefore, international actors, including Sweden, are trying to alleviate civilian hardship through humanitarian aid at the same time as companies in their countries are contributing to the hardship in the first place. This further demonstrates that the issue of hunger cannot be isolated from political interests and that policy coherence is essential for reaching the goal. It shows an incoherence in the developmental policies.
Food insecurity and famine in Yemen are political issues which deserve greater international attention. As UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande states: “If the war doesn’t end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children”. The food crisis in Yemen is part of a larger international system, in which the very same countries that promote the Sustainable Development Goals, are also partially responsible for hindering or setting back development. Therefore, the SDG 2 “No Hunger” cannot be isolated from political interests or strategies. Hunger in Yemen is ultimately political and can only be solved by a change in the political structures.