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War in Ukraine Bearing Down Hard on Syria and Yemen

Since the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, the MENA region is in danger of facing severe implications on basic necessities. Syria and Yemen, which are already in unstable conditions, risk food insecurity or even famine. Seeing no signs of a possible halt to the invasion in Ukraine, ACHRS can only hope for extra humanitarian aid in Yemen and Syria.

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Last March 15th marked the 11th anniversary of the ongoing war in Syria. After more than a decade of fighting, Syria’s humanitarian needs are still at an all-time high. The severity and amount of violence and displacement have been exacerbated by COVID-19, drought and now a crumbling economy, leaving millions of vulnerable Syrians fighting to live. While the situation in Yemen cannot be measured over the same yardstick, the country is equally fighting the results of an ongoing conflict. The State is mentioned to be facing the worst humanitarian crisis at the moment and is one of the four main hunger-hotspots in the world.

While the war between Ukraine and Russia might seem far away from humanitarian needs in Syria and Yemen, the two countries prove to be of great importance for Syria and Yemen. Especially in Syria, the connection is visible. Firstly, Russia’s President Putin is a fervent supporter of Syria’s president Al-Assad. Consequently, Damascus has shown complete solidarity with Russia in the attacks on Ukraine. Even more so, according to the Syrian Presidency, Putin and Al-Assad discussed a possible invasion of Ukraine two months in advance of recent events and even on national Syrian television a go-ahead to the launch of the Russian operation was presented.

In the UN Security Council, Syria was one of just five countries to vote against a draft UN resolution criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In response to the coalition between the countries, Putin is said to be recruiting ‘low-cost Syrian mercenaries’: easily recruited members to fight in his army in Ukraine. Due to the miserable economic situation in Syria, Putin will likely not have a problem finding combat-hardened men of military age eager to put their lives on the line for a little amount of money.

Next to recruitment, the war in Ukraine also has a direct influence on the country. Considering that both Russia and Ukraine are important players in global agricultural markets and Russia’s significance in global energy trade, wheat export to Yemen and Syria is decreasing. Due to the uncertainties surrounding sanctions, the Russian military operation has halted Ukrainian grain supplies and stalled Russian grain negotiations. In the two nations, an estimated 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize are frozen.

This counts to a cutoff of up to 30% of global wheat supplies, which is expected to skyrocket food prices, deepening both States’ hardship. In Syria, already 60% of the population find themselves food-insecure. In Yemen, people who are already in need of food assistance are 17.4 million people out of a population of just under 30 million. In June, because of the decrease in wheat availability, it is estimated that 161000 people in Yemen will suffer famine. Not unimportantly, the rise in food prices does not only affect the local population’s access to food but also affects for example the World Food Program, which consequently cannot afford to offer the needed humanitarian aid.

Russia has crossed many international as well as national laws when invading Ukraine. But unfortunately, the country quit the council of Europe – the body that protects human rights across the continent. This shows that the State has no intention of putting a halt to the operation, increasing the likelihood of a worsening of the situation in Syria and Yemen.

ACHRS can only hope for additional funding for WFP, to overcome the risk of an increase of people suffering famine. Moreover, ACHRS condemns the relations between Al-Assad and Putin, which currently cause more harm than good. Yet, countries will inevitably be interconnected and therefore consequences will in the near future likely not become any lighter in Syria and Yemen, with Russia not showing signs of stopping the invasion in Ukraine. For now, we have to hope for progress between the states at war and the consequences this will have on Syria, Yemen and other affected MENA countries.

Image Source: Haaretz

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