It is very difficult for me as chairman of the B-YS, to write a "festive season" message to members of the British-Yemeni Society. The past few days have seen the launch of a major appeal in the UK by the Disasters Emergency Committee, highlighting the human tragedy that continues to unfold in Yemen, and reminding us that it is not at all festive in Yemen. The DEC appeal has been strengthened by the powerful reporting of Fergal Keane of the BBC. Clare Balding's presentation of the appeal which many of you will have seen on television, and by the news that the first £5 million in donations will be matched by UK Aid Match from the Department of International Development. As I write this, DEC reports that the appeal, including matching funds, has reached £13 million.
This will certainly help, though formidable obstacles stand in the way of getting aid to many of those who need it most, whether it be food, medical treatment, or economic support more generally. The security situation remains grim, with bombing attacks by the Saudi-led coalition continuing. Fighting continues between different militias in Taizz, from where we hear that forces loyal to Hadi's precarious Aden-based government have been driven out by the militias. And all of this is in addition to suicide bomb attacks in Aden aimed at the security forces there.
The economic situation continues to worsen, and would have done so even if Hadi had not moved the Central Bank from Sana'a to Aden. Many people in employment have not been paid for several months and cannot buy the food they need. There is less food available in the markets as commercial importers report that they can no longer get the letters of credit they need to purchase the foodstuffs to ship to Yemen. More than one article published recently has asked the question "will this suffering never end?"
It is hard to see an end. Yemen is now in a stalemate of depressing complexity, manifested in the starvation that is widespread. We might take heart from the latest announcement by US Secretary of State that, working with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK, a new ceasefire might be achievable within two weeks. But the precedents offer little promise of success.
What can the B-YS as a society do? Yemen's tragedy can only be ended by its own political, tribal and religious leaders supported by what remains a surprisingly resilient civil society. The UN and the international community can help, but only as far as the parties to the conflicts in Yemen are ready to be helped. Views as to the right or the best way forward differ within the B-YS membership (and the committee). I think it best to maintain our cultural and educational roles, and to offer such help to Yemen as we can through our own Yemen Crisis Appeal, or encouraging donations to other appeals such as the one recently launched by DEC. Individual members can, though, do their part (as many have done) by writing to MPs and government ministers to encourage them to ensure that British involvement is morally justifiable and that British policy, however well intentioned, does not end up restoring or shoring up a system that has quite evidently failed.
Let us hope that the coming year will be better for Yemen and its people.
And to our members and our friends in Yemen I wish you all the best in this season of goodwill, and for the coming year
Dr Robert Wilson OBE
Chairman of the British-Yemeni Society
23 December 2016