The standoff between supporters of Yemen’s president Saleh and protesters seeking his removal has now erupted into street battles.
Voice of America is reporting that “Dozens of people have been killed in the fighting that followed Saleh’s rejection Sunday of a deal to step down.” The proposed peaceful transition deal was brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council of Arab States.
President Obama said Wednesday, “we call on President Saleh to move immediately on his commitment to transfer power.” The coming days will either lead to peace or will spiral into civil war. Besides reinforcing the call for peace, there is a way we can help Yemen.
This is by urging a more effective and responsible plan for aiding and developing the country. As Obama said in London today, “The Yemeni people call for greater opportunity and prosperity.”
None of this will take place without the basics of food, medicine, shelter, and education that are so severely lacking in the poorest country in the Middle East. First must come interim aid to fill gaps in these areas. Then you have to coordinate a longer-term plan so the country can become self-sufficient.
Yet the UN World Food Programme, UNICEF, and other aid agencies are constantly facing funding shortages. This leaves Yemen always digging out of a hole. There are piecemeal donations from donor governments, but nothing significant enough to set in motion lasting change.
Entire programs like Food for Education have been in shut-down mode for over a year now. Plans to help families cope with high food prices remain short on funding. What about the high infant malnutrition rate in Yemen and its deadly consequences?
Let’s hope with all our might that this political unrest gets resolved peacefully and soon. But let’s also do more than that.
Support the basics in Yemen. Fund the relief programs by aid agencies. Devise a plan that provides long-term solutions to the crushing poverty in the country. Ensure lasting peace in Northern Yemen which has seen years of conflict between the government and rebels.
Nadia A. Al-Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times, wrote me last month about the women’s conference. She said, “It was amazing how simple yet crucial our demands were and I felt sad that we [struggle] so much to simply get our basic rights such as education and health care.”
Keep your thoughts with the people in Yemen during this crisis. Geert Cappelaere, head of UNICEF Yemen, told me this morning, “just the thought that people are out there and very much with us makes…a difference.”
But also do some planning so a true peace emerges in Yemen from all of this. That will only come if the needs of the people are met. And it starts with the basic necessities.