The conflict between the Yemeni government, backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels, close to Iran, has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since 2015, and pushed the poorest country on the peninsula Arabia in a situation close to a large-scale famine.
Since April 2, a truce wrested by the UN, and relatively respected, has allowed a cessation of hostilities and measures intended to alleviate the living conditions of the population, confronted with one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
“The situation has generally improved” over the past three months, Diego Zorrilla said in an interview with AFP, citing the drop in the number of civilian casualties, the more regular supply of fuel, and the resumption of some commercial flights. from the capital Sanaa, held by the insurgents.
But “as the roads are still blocked, the improvement does not live up to the expectations of the population”, he added, referring to one of the main elements of the truce which has still not been put in place. implemented.
Several rounds of discussions have been organized in Jordan by the UN special envoy, Hans Grundberg, but the belligerents are reluctant to reopen the roads, fearing that this will benefit the other party militarily.
Traffic is very difficult between the northern regions, controlled by the rebels and which represent 30% of the territory but where 70% of the population live, and the loyalist areas, where the majority of goods arrive.
The many roadblocks and diversions quadruple transport costs, complicate the delivery of humanitarian aid, and deprive many Yemenis of access to basic services.
– “Particularly serious situation” –
“The situation is particularly serious in Taiz”, a city in the south-west of the country surrounded by mountains and where “between 1.5 and 2 million people live”, according to Diego Zorrilla.
The agglomeration, which was an important cultural, academic and historical center, is crossed by a front line of 16 kilometers.
About 80% of the inhabitants live in the part held by the government, but the rebels control the high areas where the water wells supplying the city are located.
The majority of the population must therefore buy “much more expensive” tank water, and “16,000 workers on both sides cannot see their families”, explains the manager.
Another consequence: access to hospitals.
“Instead of making a 20-minute journey for dialysis, patients sometimes have to go to Aden”, a city in the south where the government temporarily sits.
But Taiz is not only cut in two, it is also cut off from the rest of the country. Its inhabitants must take very dangerous mountain roads to reach Aden in eight or nine hours, compared to three hours in normal times.
The reopening of the roads is “a major humanitarian, economic and development issue”, insists Mr. Zorrilla, recalling that more than two thirds of the 30 million Yemenis, or 23 million people, need humanitarian aid.
– “People are going to die” –
UN aid targets 17 million inhabitants, with an envelope estimated at 4.3 billion dollars, of which only a quarter has been provided for 2022 so far, due to the drop in contributions from the United Arab Emirates and of Saudi Arabia, who say they favor their own humanitarian channels.
These two countries, members of the military coalition supporting the government, announced in April economic aid of three billion dollars to Yemen, but it has not yet been disbursed.
If the coffers of UN agencies are not replenished, “people will die”, warns Diego Zorrilla. “The longer a crisis drags on, the more our attention diminishes, but that’s not to say the situation isn’t getting worse.”
The truce, which ends on August 2, must absolutely be renewed insists the UN coordinator, “to continue to work on the opening of roads and other more ambitious files”.