Yemen will suffer systemic failure if violence in the country does not end, a top humanitarian official told The National this week as fighting in the northern city of Marib intensified.
Marib, a strategically important trading centre, has experienced an increase in fighting between the government and Houthi rebels in recent weeks, trapping hundreds of thousands of civilians in the crossfire.
“The systemic failure of Yemen is around the corner; the focus has been on systemic fighting and not on rehabilitation, reconstruction and providing basic services,” said Fabrizio Carboni, regional director for the Near and Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Marib is now almost surrounded by the Iran-backed rebels after an offensive that began in February.
“Today the violence is really high, we’ve asked the parties to really be careful, but, at the end of the day it’s the parties themselves who have to reach a conclusion [to stop the fighting],” Mr Carboni said during a visit to Beirut.
UN-led efforts to engineer a nationwide ceasefire have stalled as the warring sides failed to come to an agreement. The UN says more than six years of war in Yemen has created the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
Since the latest escalation in Marib, the ICRC has been in contact with both sides to ensure that assistance reaches affected civilians.
The ICRC says the fighting endangers more than one million civilians who were displaced from other parts of Yemen. Many families have already been forced to flee from displacement camps.
“There is a concern that people are trapped because of the fighting in the city, and the other concern is if they are displaced and moving in big quantities, we won’t know where they are going,” Mr Carboni said.
“We don’t see the next urban centre that could hold so many people,” he said.
“Those in Marib have been displaced so many times, the question is where will they go?”
The ancient city sits on a network of roads that could give the Houthis several options for advancing into the government-controlled southern half of Yemen.
ICRC officials have been battling donor fatigue for years to raise funds for Yemen's battered healthcare system, economy and infrastructure to fight looming famines.
Yemen’s health care faces the threat of institutional collapse, in large part because of the ongoing conflict, and needs a great amount of money.
"Donors have difficult times to mobilise funds for places like Yemen, Syria and Iraq because there’re other countries facing crises, such as Libya and Tigray [in Ethiopia]," Mr Carboni said.
The ICRC has been pleading with donor countries for financial assistance to meet "the bare minimum of humanitarian actions".
"We are not talking about luxury, but bare minimum," Mr Carboni said. "I hope the donors can see this as a duty that goes beyond politics."
Earlier this year, an online conference held by the UN and co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland fell far short of its aid goal for Yemen.
More than 100 governments and donors worked to raise $3.85 billion to help civilians, but in the end only $1.7bn was pledged.
"If we are not there then there’s nothing, and nothing leads to traumatic situations," Mr Carboni said.