Video Duration 21 minutes 30 seconds
From: Talk to Al Jazeera: In the Field

Impossible missions? The UN in Yemen and Syria

UN officials and a German diplomat reflect on efforts to end conflict in Syria and Yemen and provide humanitarian aid.

Despite international diplomatic and military efforts to find solutions, the war in Syria enters its eighth year and the war in Yemen is in its fourth.

At the Doha Forum held in December, many of those involved in efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflicts gathered and reflected on the lack of progress so far.

One of them was Wolfgang Ischinger, a German diplomat and chairman of the annual Munich Security Conference.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, he said that European powers, in particular, have failed to play an influential role.

“I think our Syria policy has been a disaster,” he said, arguing that Europe did not have the strategy or methods to influence decisions on the ground. “What we are now seeing is the outcome of efforts by Russia, by Turkey, I guess by Iran, and to a certain extent by the United States with Europe having been on the sidelines throughout this process. That is extremely regrettable.”

More than one million Syrian refugees and asylum seekers had travelled to Europe since the beginning of the conflict, with more than 500,000 applying for asylum in Germany alone between 2011 and 2017, according to a 2018 Pew Research Centre report, which sourced Eurostat and UNHCR data.

“These events of the last three years have changed European and German politics in a major way, almost dramatic changes, [for example] the migration pressure, the refugee problem. So, this is our issue,” Ischinger said.

For him, this makes the war a distinctly European issue, saying that the EU should have called for a peace process years ago. “We should have played … a much stronger diplomatic role.”

Recent diplomatic successes in Yemen, however, offer some positive signs according to Mark Lowcock, UN undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

In mid-December Houthi rebels and government forces agreed to a ceasefire in the port of Hodeidah after seven days of UN-mediated peace talks in Sweden.

“Parties have agreed initial steps to de-escalate the conflict or to try to move things forward but that now needs to be translated into a real change on the ground because people I’ve listened to – parents of starving children, people who have fled from their homes, sometimes multiple times – they’re not seeing yet any tangible benefit,” Lowcock said.

The ceasefire still remains fragile with several violations in the weeks following the agreement.

According to Lowcock, the most recent report from his organisation shows that 250,000 people in Yemen are living in “the highest level of food insecurity, the catastrophe level”.

“No one has won from this war in Yemen, it’s absolutely clear who the losers are and they are the starving millions of children and innocent civilians whose pictures we increasingly see in our newspapers and on our TV screens.”

The war in Yemen has left 11.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance, according to an October 2018 UNICEF report. The wars in Syria and Yemen have lasted so long that an entire generation of children is missing basic education and nourishment.

This is a key concern for Henrietta Fore, the CEO of UNICEF. Her organisation provides education and humanitarian services in Yemen and other countries, some of which focus on mitigating the psychological trauma of war.

Getting aid to people is not easy, she said, as both sides of Yemen’s conflict target humanitarian workers. “Access in Yemen is always a problem,” she said. “If we are not protected when we go in … it makes it very difficult to reach … isolated populations.”

According to Fore, wars are impacting children globally more now than ever before.

“Conflicts … there are more than we’ve ever had, they are longer lasting, and they are more severe,” she said. “That takes an enormous toll on children, so none of us are protecting children well enough.”