Well into its seventh year, war has devastated Yemen. Our research shows that through 2021, conflict in Yemen will be responsible for 377,000 deaths. Nearly 60 percent of the deaths are indirectly attributed to the war, due to lack of access to food, water, and health care. If conflict continues through 2030, the death toll could grow to 1.3 million.

For the past three years, we at the University of Denver’s Frederick S. Pardee Center of International Futures at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies have been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen researching the human and economic cost of the conflict. It is already clear that the conflict has cost tens of thousands of lives and resulted in millions in need of humanitarian assistance. Our task was to measure the conflict’s effects and to forecast what Yemen could look like in continued conflict.

War works in many different ways to inflict damage on a society. Immediately, it results in human casualties and destroys buildings and infrastructure. Most assessments of conflict damage focus on those direct effects. But we must also look deeper to account for the true cost of war. Jobs and sources of income are lost while prices rise, resulting in families struggling to afford food. People are forced to leave their homes and live with degraded living conditions, which encourage the spread of disease. This is especially harmful to young children, for whom malnourishment and illness are life threatening. If we want to account for the costs of conflict, we must account for all of these linked effects.

At the Pardee Center, we use systems thinking and integrated modeling to map out and understand the myriad ways that conflict affects development. We use the International Futures model — commonly referred to as ‘IFs’ — an extensive integrated modeling system.

We modeled several different recovery scenarios, from a tenuous and fragmented recovery to a strong, effective, and integrated recovery. While a poor, fragmented recovery will prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths and allow recovery to begin, it does so in a position of a precarious and vulnerable peace. But policymakers and practitioners can do a lot to improve outcomes further, including investing in governance and agriculture. One of the most notable findings is that empowering women, through improvements to women’s health and education as well as their involvement in the economy and society, is an especially powerful recovery strategy, saving 140,000 lives and lifting 2.3 million out of poverty by 2030. 

The most effective recovery strategy is one that is fully integrated across development systems. The effects of conflict are felt throughout society. A full recovery calls for systems-based solutions incorporating the economy, health and education, governance, agriculture, and female empowerment. A strong, integrated recovery strategy will require breaking down silos that often exist in the fields of international development and aid. It will also require coordination across all levels — from the international to the local — and pursuing strategies that explicitly focus on supporting and building up local institutions. And most critically, it requires a sustainable and lasting peace in Yemen.

Meeting these requirements will be a challenge. We find that this integrated recovery strategy can return the country to the development trajectory it was on prior to the war. It prevents the deaths of 700,000 Yemenis and eliminates extreme poverty by mid-century. With sustained peace and a strong, integrated recovery, Yemen’s next generations can be spared the worst scars from the war and come of age in a country with restored prosperity and dignity.

It is notoriously difficult to get good, data-based assessments from a conflict zone. These assessments are important to understanding the full human cost of the conflict. Taking stock of a war’s indirect impacts can help humanitarian and development organizations understand how to better help vulnerable populations, both while war is ongoing and in its aftermath.

The conclusions reached from the IFs modeling are detailed in the third of a trilogy of reports that was released last month. The first two reports, which were released in 2019, were distributed through the halls of the United States Senate and were highlighted in media reports on the war in Yemen.

Every day of continued conflict takes 80 lives directly and indirectly. These findings can inform policymakers and stakeholders around the world. Now is the time for action if we hope to steer the future of Yemen in a positive direction.

Jonathan D. Moyer is director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver. Taylor Hanna is the center’s senior research associate. David K. Bohl is the Pardee Center’s assistant director of analysis.

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