Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, descended into crisis in February 2015. A power-sharing agreement broke down, sparking a civil war that rapidly expanded with foreign involvement. With the country divided into zones controlled by warring factions, hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced. Most of the country lost access to medical care and electricity; food and water became scarce. Few children were able to go to school, and most people had no way to earn a living amid the chaos. The United Nations, World Bank, bilateral donors (including some from the region), and international humanitarian NGOs worked with local governments that still had capacity to deliver services, as well as Yemeni NGOs and communities, to try to meet immediate humanitarian needs. To improve coordination and effectiveness, the UN Country Team in Yemen, the World Bank, and the European Union co-convened a three-day consultative meeting in Cyprus in November 2015. It involved more than 100 international and Yemeni leaders and practitioners focused on humanitarian relief. The co-conveners asked CBI to design and facilitate the meeting, leading an Arabic-speaking facilitation team.
CBI and the co-conveners agreed to address deep divisions and fundamental uncertainties without letting them derail discussion of challenges and opportunities for humanitarian access. In light of significant uncertainty about how the political and military situation would develop, CBI asked participants to develop three trajectories (status quo, deterioration, and improvement) for planning purposes over the next 12 months. The trajectories also framed and focused discussion of political issues relative to their impact on the humanitarian situation. Participants then identified priority needs and ways to improve the response in key sectors (health, education, gender, livelihoods, infrastructure, etc.), noting how the different trajectories might affect needs and opportunities. They also noted differences in areas of the country where conflict was more intense or less intense. Participants used within-sector and cross-sector discussion and review to highlight areas where coordination could improve. They concluded by producing a document with sector-specific prioritized needs and coordination opportunities.
The consultative meeting enabled Yemeni participants and their international counterparts to address serious humanitarian challenges in a highly-polarized context without becoming embroiled in recriminations or paralyzed by uncertainties. It produced a very useful joint assessment of priority needs in key sectors, which participants used as a basis for ongoing planning and resource allocation. In addition, the meeting built new links and relationships among Yemeni and international humanitarian actors, a critically important contribution at a time when direct contact and sustained interaction inside Yemen was nearly impossible. Finally, it enabled the major multilateral actors to strengthen their collaboration to support the humanitarian response in Yemen.