War in Ukraine adds another layer of suffering for millions in Yemen
During the first few weeks of the war in Yemen, Muhammad Naji knew that his family would be put first.
As bombs rained down on the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, his family, like millions of others, went down in hopes of survival through nights marked by horrific airstrikes.
As Saudi-led airstrikes lay waste to residential buildings, mosques, markets, factories, schools and hospitals; families like his family got by on whatever they could – usually food mortar, even moldy bread.
Now, despite a recent lull in fighting, Naji’s family is once again struggling to survive.
Sharp increases in the cost of food, fuel and other key commodities due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have pushed millions of Yemenis like him to starve every night.
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“I can’t believe that a conflict going on elsewhere is affecting our lives more,” Naji told Middle East Eye.
Across the country, Yemenis are struggling to afford even the most basic staples in the face of soaring prices fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Russia and Ukraine account for a third of world wheat and barley exports and are also the top exporters of other grains and cooking sunflower seed oil.
Naji, a state-contracted bus driver, said the high cost of basic staples meant he, like many of his colleagues, had to cut back on the number of meals they ate.
“We were already struggling to eat when the [Russia-Ukraine] war started, but now… things are worse. We’re back to eating less than two meals a day.”
He added that many Yemenis he knew adopted negative coping mechanisms to survive.
Many people were forced to buy on credit or borrow from friends or family to pay for basic food and medicine. Others had sold their assets, including livestock, property or machinery.
Crisis in Ukraine
Yemen has always been heavily dependent on imports, with about 90 percent of its food coming from abroad, including 85 percent of its staple grain crops.
But with airports, ports and land routes closed, due to damage or obstruction by the Saudi-led coalition at war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, prices of basic goods have skyrocketed.
Last year, the World Food Program (WFP) said it was forced to take food from the hungry to give to the hungry due to a drop in funding.
“The crisis in Ukraine makes a bad funding situation worse,” said Corinne Fleischer, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“There are immediate humanitarian needs that require attention. In recent years donors have helped us provide food to millions in the region. Now the situation is critical and it is time to be even more generous.”
Rasheed al-Haddad, an economic analyst based in Sanaa, said the toxic combination of the war in Ukraine and the drop in donor funding meant fewer Yemenis were able to access enough food to survive.
He noted that with Yemen importing 4.2 million tonnes of wheat from abroad, about 45.3 percent of the country’s total imports came from Russia and Ukraine.
“Among the consequences [of the Russia-Ukraine war] the high cost of sea freight for imports,” said Haddad, adding that the price of wheat, flour and vegetable oil had doubled.
“At the consumer level, it has increased the level of suffering of the citizens. And this coincides with the reduction in the amount of humanitarian aid provided by the United Nations and its partners,” he said.
Arabic look out
Nine years after launching its military campaign in Yemen, analysts say Saudi Arabia is trying to extricate itself from the brutal conflict.
Earlier this month, the kingdom announced plans to resume ties with Iran after attending Chinese-brokered talks in Beijing.
Analysts have said the deal could have wide-ranging implications for Iran’s nuclear deal and the war in Yemen, where the two sides are locked in a proxy war.
“Saudi Arabia has promised to deal with Iran and allow the Houthis to be expelled from Yemen. But that is shortsighted at best,” said Gregory D. Johnson, a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. (AGSIW). ) and a former member of the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen.
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“The Houthis are not about to stop fighting their rivals in Yemen, no matter what deal the group signs with Saudi Arabia,” he wrote. “And that reality is dangerous for the kingdom, which could easily be dragged back into the conflict in Yemen.”
Yemen became embroiled in conflict in 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies, mainly the UAE, intervened on 26 March 2015 to push back the Houthis.
Since then, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out more than 22,000 airstrikes in an effort to roll back the Houthis’ gains, with a third of non-military sites hit, according to the Yemen Data Project.
The Houthis have targeted cities and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates with drones and missiles.
A UN-brokered ceasefire that came into effect last April saw a sharp decline in hostilities. Although the ceasefire ended in October, the fighting has largely been on hold.
While analysts have suggested Riyadh’s top priority is securing border areas and stopping drone and missile attacks targeting its vital oil facilities, Naji said he hoped the grinding conflict would not put his family at further risk.
I cannot allow my family to be another statistic in this conflict, said Naji. “We Yemenis have gone through a lot.”