During Stockholm Civil Society week this month, I met representatives from different International Non-Governmental Organizations INGOs. Every time I introduced myself as a Yemeni, the immediate respond was to inform me that their projects and support for Civil Society organisations CSOs in Yemen have been terminated due to ongoing conflict. This statement reflects the alarming fact that there is less than two percent support to CSOs in time of conflict.
Yemeni is undergoing a conflict caused by incompatibility over government. The primary warring parties of the conflict are the rebel group better known as “Houthis” and the transitional government led by president Hadi. There is a secondary actor involved the conflict, which is a coalition led by neighbouring country Saudi Arabia to back up the Yemeni president against the rebels. Since the onset of the war in Yemen, local civil society actors are in the forefront to respond to the crisis, even before INGOs humanitarian agencies get involved. For instance, networks of Yemeni merchants and civil actors are helping refugees in finding free passages through vessels to take them out of Yemen. Local civil societies are acting to keep social cohesion and norms in order to avoid the outbreak of gender based violence and other forms of violence. Overall, civil society actors are faster in responding to conflict, therefore saving more lives and mitigating the level of suffering in their communities. Local actors have legitimacy and the trust of their people. They are able to operate in conflict affected areas, because they speak the language, are aware of local codes and power dynamics, and have contextualized understanding on the ground. The local CSOs are aware of the needs and the vulnerabilities of their communities. This also has been expressed in ‘Kvinna till Kvinna’s’ recent study of peace-building and local women activists in Syria.
CSOs have a significant role in enabling people to claim their rights, affirm human rights norms, and prompt peace, justices and freedom. Despite the value of CSOs and their considerable role, donor states and INGOs are unplugging life-support from CSOs in time of warfare. Oxfam’s recent report has revealed that during 2007–2013; around 1.87 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local CSOs actors. The percentage is very low because INGOs who provide funds usually have pre-set humanitarian programmes, or provide funds only to organisations whose works are in line with humanitarian aid. The result is that several other CSOs,-that play important roles in a war torn country - are severely overlooked.
The official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales has stated in their paper titled “Funding at the sharp end”, that current international humanitarian financing system is biased and privileging the voice and influence of international actors rather than local actors. This is problematic and causes immense challenges for the survival of local CSOs. Cutting fund from CSOs in conflict time forces LNGOs into a margin and vulnerability. The concentration of funds within the fields of humanitarian aid and short terms humanitarian projects forces local CSOs, to change their identity and objectives for the sake of survival. The current conflict and the disregard to CSOs have created a sense of alienation among civic activists. Local civil actors in Yemen are frustrated that donors do not listen to their local priorities, particularly if these priorities do not correspond directly to humanitarian work.
During the outbreak of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs UNOCH declared the country a level three humanitarian emergency response. This means that the country is classified severe with large scale of humanitarian crisis. Yemen is now placed as the third largest recipient of humanitarian aid from The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), following Syria and South Sudan. International humanitarian actors including Sida, ought to communicate, cooperate with existing local CSOs and enhance their capacity. When International NGOs and Local NGOs work together they can be particularly effective in achieving their goals in short and long terms. CSOs could play a significant role to stimulate peace efforts in time of conflict. Therefore, endeavours should be directed to invest in enhancing their capacity and consider their local expertise when designing and implementing humanitarian intervention.
Next year, The UN is hosting the world humanitarian summit to address the unprecedented challenges that face the humanitarian aid and come up with efficient global agenda. Donors and INGOs shall take the opportunity to rethink the current setting and press for the inclusion of local NGOs, especially in time of conflict.
Writer, consultant and the co-founder of the Yemeni Salon, a diaspora organisation based in Sweden