Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursulla Mueller - Briefing to the Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen, 22 November 2019
Thank you, Madam President.
Every month in Yemen, some 250 humanitarian partners work with the United Nations to assist more than 13 million people in the country. We are delivering the world’s largest humanitarian operation in an extremely challenging environment, one in which things relentlessly seem to be getting worse.
This is why humanitarians have consistently advocated action on five priorities: 1) respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians; 2) unhindered humanitarian access; 3) funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan; 4) support for the economy; and 5) progress towards a political solution.
If fully implemented, these steps would immediately and significantly reduce people’s suffering and help set the stage for lasting peace. I would like to review where these five priorities stand today.
First, compliance with international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians. Every month, this Council hears examples of the devastation the war has brought to civilians and civilian infrastructure. Attacks continue to cause civilian harm across the country.
Two days ago, artillery shells struck a market in Sa’ada. Initial reports indicate that this attack killed and injured dozens of civilians.
Two weeks ago, an attack in Taizz Governorate badly damaged a hospital in the town of Al Mukha. This was the only medical facility providing free emergency surgical care in the area. Its closure deprived local communities of access to these services until the hospital re-opened just a few days ago. It is a miracle no one on the hospital grounds was killed or injured in the attack, which occurred when patients and medical staff were inside the compound.
Over the last month, we have also seen reports of fishermen killed by air strikes. Shells have fallen on civilian homes and sites hosting displaced families. Landmines and other explosives have also killed and injured civilians. These events occur with a regularity that should alarm all of us.
It is not only Yemenis who suffer. Migrants and asylum-seekers, mainly from the Horn of Africa, continue to arrive in Yemen. The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 160,000 migrants will arrive this year. They face appalling levels of abuse, including rape, torture and economic exploitation by human traffickers. The war has not spared migrants and asylum-seekers either. Casualties in the Sa’ada attack earlier this week, for example, included Ethiopian and Somali nationals. Their plight is now getting more attention.
Despite these and other incidents, there are also some signs of progress. In October, there were fewer civilian casualties than any other month this year, while September was the year’s deadliest month for civilians.
We hope the violence will continue to decrease. We continue to call on the parties to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Madam President, the second area for priority action is the obligation of all parties to facilitate humanitarian relief. Yet humanitarian access remains an enormous challenge in Yemen, particularly in areas controlled by Ansar Allah.
Recently, there have been some limited improvements. For example, Ansar Allah authorities have allowed more NGO projects to start over the last few weeks, and we have heard assurances on several other issues.
But despite these assurances, Ansar Allah authorities continue to enforce a growing number of restrictive regulations on humanitarian action. These restrictions regularly hinder assistance for millions of people. Although partners are still able to deliver aid, doing so requires constant engagement at all levels, often resulting in unacceptable delays for people who need the help.
Although some projects have been recently approved, Ansar Allah authorities are still blocking or delaying half of all NGO projects in areas under their control. Needs assessments and monitoring are frequently blocked as well. In several cases, UN and NGO staff have been forced out of Yemen, often without cause.
All types of humanitarian movements in the north, including deliveries of life-saving assistance, are routinely blocked. Even when movements have been authorized, partners may still face arbitrary refusals or delays at checkpoints.
Ansar Allah-affiliated authorities also frequently seek to interfere in humanitarian operations, including attempts to influence selection of beneficiaries or implementing partners. And Ansar Allah authorities continue their campaign to coerce humanitarian partners into working under conditions that, if accepted, would contradict humanitarian principles and almost certainly result in loss of funding and programmes closing down.
We have also seen an alarming increase in violence and harassment targeting humanitarian workers in areas controlled by Ansar Allah. Over the past three months, there have been 60 separate incidents of attacks, intimidation, detention and other forms of mistreatment of humanitarian staff. In several cases, looting of relief supplies and occupation of humanitarian premises have disrupted critical deliveries of aid and services.
The very serious issues I have just outlined have all been directly, clearly and repeatedly raised with Ansar Allah. Although some forward steps have been taken after continuous engagement, the humanitarian operating environment in the north remains extremely constrained.
As we begin to think about next year’s Humanitarian Response Plan – and our ability to raise money for it – we sincerely hope Ansar Allah authorities will listen and change course, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
On a separate note, we also hope Ansar Allah will allow the long-planned United Nations assessment of the SAFER oil tanker to take place. The SAFER tanker continues to pose a serious risk of environmental and humanitarian disaster in the Red Sea. Such a disaster is avoidable. Our assessment team remains ready to deploy within three weeks.
Access challenges in Government-controlled areas are of a different nature. We continue to seek a faster and more streamlined approach to Government processes to approve humanitarian projects, as well as to expedite humanitarian cargo arriving at Aden port.
Madam President, the third point I want to highlight is funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan. As you heard last month from USG Lowcock, new funding since September from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, the United States and others has enabled agencies to re-open suspended programmes.
This means children are again getting regular vaccines; health centres are receiving supplies; and malnutrition treatment centres are getting back to work. With the Humanitarian Response Plan now more than 70 per cent funded, the aid operation is on a much stronger financial footing than it was several months ago. We are grateful to all donors for their continuing support.
Madam President, the fourth priority is the economy, which is a key driver of humanitarian needs.
Yemen imports almost everything, including food, fuel and medicine. That means the exchange rate makes an enormous difference in people’s lives and their ability to access the goods they need to survive.
The rate is currently fluctuating between 540 and 575 rial to the US dollar. This is better than the 595-rate last month, but still more than twice as high as pre-crisis levels.
We continue to call for a regular programme of foreign-exchange injections into Yemen’s economy to stabilize the exchange rate and help make goods and services affordable.
Last month we also updated you on the impact of severe fuel shortages following strict enforcement of Government regulations on commercial fuel imports. Fuel is essential to transport food to markets, to pump drinking water and to power sanitation systems.
Since then, shortages have eased considerably and fuel prices have come down, although rural areas are taking longer to rebound. As you’ve just heard from Special Envoy Griffiths, the parties have also worked closely with his office to design a mechanism that will allow adequate fuel supplies to enter all ports, including Hudaydah.
We commend the flexibility of all stakeholders on this critical issue. It is essential to keep supplies of fuel and other essential commodities flowing. USG Lowcock was in the region this week and had positive discussions with the Government of Yemen on the fuel issue and the economy.
Madam President, the fifth and final priority is the need for progress towards a political solution and, ultimately, peace. We all agree that Yemen needs a political solution if this crisis is ever to end.
You have just heard Special Envoy Griffiths summarize several very encouraging developments in this regard. We welcome these steps and join millions of Yemenis in hoping they are a sign of even more progress to come.