Yemen Could Become the Next Syria: It's Time the World Stepped in

Yemen Children Conflict
A girl carries her brother at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen, on April 24. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

As a father of three girls, what is happening in Yemen really hits my heart. More than two years of civil war between ethnic groups battling for control of the government has brought the country to its knees. Civilians are caught in the crossfire with hundreds of indiscriminate attacks on schools, hospitals and markets. Airstrikes and killings are normal everyday life for Yemeni children. What kind of generation are we creating, and what does the future hold for them? It's not very bright.

Parents in Yemen want to create a home for their children where they can grow and have opportunities, but they are no longer in a position to give them that chance, and their kids don't see themselves as having a future either.

On Tuesday, world leaders gathered in Geneva to attend a U.N.-hosted pledging conference for Yemen. While this is a most welcome first step in tackling the humanitarian crisis facing this country, a real solution cannot happen without more coordinated efforts to prioritize a political settlement to the conflict.

Decades of poverty and poor governance have caused immense human suffering. Yemen has always struggled with severe malnutrition, especially among children, but the current conflict has exacerbated an already severe humanitarian crisis. Two years of civil war have crippled the agricultural sector, impeded imports of staple provisions and sent food and fuel prices soaring. Now, nearly 19 million people are in need of critical and urgent assistance, half the country is hungry, and more than two million people have fled their homes.

It is extremely difficult to move inside the country as aid workers' ability to deliver critical humanitarian assistance to a very vulnerable population has been limited, and, at times, nearly impossible. If we want to take the road from Sana'a to Aden, it takes up to a day and a half with many checkpoints. It's actually a very dangerous option, so the IRC does not use this method of transportation. It's a horrible situation for a country that's completely dependent on food imports for its survival.

The main airport in the capital, Sana'a, only allows for humanitarian flights through the United Nations. There are no direct flights from the north of the country to the south, making the delivery of food, medicine and other critical supplies incredibly difficult.

If we want to deliver food, medicine and other critical supplies from the north to the south, we have to fly to Djibouti in Africa and then fly back into Yemen to the city of Aden in the south. It can take up to three to six months to deliver these critical supplies to people. We are forced to wait. In the meantime, with every 10 minutes that ticks by, a child under the age 5 dies of preventable causes.

It's extremely frustrating when you know you can help people and save their lives, but you're limited in where you can go and how you can get there.

I often think of what I witnessed at a pediatric clinic in Aden. Parents brought in their emaciated young child and were asked why they waited so long to bring him in for treatment. They said they wanted to bring him in earlier, but it took them an entire month to get the money for the bus fare to travel to the clinic.

The child died two hours later.

To address these impediments, the IRC deploys mobile health clinics to reach those who are unable to get to a hospital or clinic for treatment. But again, the movement for aid workers is very limited. It's extremely dangerous in the south, where each day we face the threat of insurgent groups.

The world cannot turn its back on Yemen. For two years, much of the world has ignored what is happening in Yemen and its long-term devastating consequences. My biggest fear is that this conflict turns into another Syria. Yemeni people tell me each day that they are afraid the conflict will escalate. They worry about survival—it's heartbreaking. As of March and throughout July 2017, there has been a 20 percent increase since last year in the number of people who are in dire need of food and other humanitarian assistance, according to estimates from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification . It shows that the situation is getting worse and worse and will continue to get worse without political action.

But it's not too late for peace: Yemen can be saved. The conflict is not widespread; there are pockets where things are still functioning and there is room for things to quickly turn around.

As global leaders meet in Geneva to pledge more support for aid in Yemen, they should also pledge political will for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Delegates must use whatever influence they have to stop the destruction of key infrastructure and push for improved access and resources to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid quickly and safely. The lives of an entire generation are at stake.

Zvidzai Maburutse is Senior Program Coordinator, Yemen, at the International Rescue Committee