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Crisis in Yemen: Reflections on the world’s largest humanitarian emergency

By Abby Maxman
Oxfam America President Abby Maxman visited Oxfam's staff, partners, and programs in Yemen in July 2018. Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

Oxfam America President and CEO Abby Maxman just returned from visiting staff and partners in Yemen, where more than three years of war have created near-famine conditions and triggered the largest and fastest-spreading cholera outbreak in recorded history. These are her reflections from her time spent on the ground.

I was honored to spend time with Oxfam staff and partners in Yemen last week. Yemen is facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and it’s not getting the attention it deserves. Now with imports from Yemen’s most critical port at risk of being disrupted, millions more people could be pushed into famine and a public health crisis. Please join me as I share what I witnessed on the ground, and help spread the word. 

Abby walks with partners in Yemen
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

It was shocking to see markets fully stocked with food in Sana’a, while 8.4 million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation. I learned that inflation has increased by 47% and one-third of the workforce hasn’t been paid consistently in at least two years. Most people can’t afford food.

Yemen crisis puts food out of reach for many.
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

I met with women and children who were surviving on one meal a day. Across Yemen, 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant and breastfeeding women require treatment for acute malnutrition. In Hudaydah alone, 300,000 children are at risk. Several women told be how they feel they are “invisible.” 2.6 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence—a 63% increase since the escalation of the conflict.

1.8 million Yemeni children are on the brink of starvation
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

I kept hearing that Yemen is NOT Syria or Iraq—only Yemeni solutions will work to end conflict and bring peace. Women and youth must be included as peace negotiators. As one Yemeni said, “If men started all of this, why don’t we give women a chance to end it.”

Abby meets a young Yemeni woman
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

In Khamer, I visited Oxfam’s livelihoods program where displaced Yemenis get training to start businesses and generate income. Women described self-worth, self-confidence, and psychological stability as a result of making their own money. When women’s voices, leadership, and needs are prioritized, whole nations benefit. Women must be able to participate in peace talks.

Women in Yemen take Oxfam skills courses
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

Throughout my trip, I heard how important Hudaydah is for securing safe passage of humanitarian and commercial shipments. If those shipments are blocked or restricted further, millions could die.

The war in Yemen has led to 16,432 civilian casualties—65% due to Saudi-UAE airstrikes backed by the United States. As Americans, we must demand an end to arms sales that fuel the crisis. All parties are responsible for horrific violations. It's our job to make sure all of them know that the international community won't keep enabling this war.

The international community must end the Yemen crisis
Photo: Mohammed A. Quatab/Sam2Suns Media

Thanks to continued pressure from people like you, Congress just took a big step toward limiting the United States’ unconditional “blank check” for the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition in Yemen. Legislation introduced by Senator Todd Young and Senator Jeanne Shaheen would require the State Department to certify that Saudi Arabia takes a set of actions to work toward peace, alleviate the humanitarian situation, and reduce civilian casualties. This provision was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), meaning it will most likely be signed into law. Let’s keep the pressure on Congress.


Urge Congress to stop fueling war and starvation in Yemen. 

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