Yemen

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator a.i., Ramesh Rajasingham, Remarks to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, New York, 14 December 2021

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Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen continues to deteriorate as a result of conflict and economic collapse.

I will focus my remarks today on what this means for civilians, what aid agencies are trying to do about it and – crucially – what the world can do to help.

Let’s start with the war, which – despite repeated international and domestic calls for a nationwide ceasefire – has escalated along several fronts.

In Marib, as the Special Envoy has just mentioned, Ansar Allah forces continue their offensive, which has displaced more than 45,000 people since September. Indiscriminate shelling by Ansar Allah is being reported with alarming regularity in Marib, including missiles that struck a camp for displaced people on 9 December, injuring five civilians.

Fighting has also intensified in southern Hudaydah and Taizz following the redeployment of Government-aligned forces that the Special Envoy has just described. More than 25,000 people have been displaced in these areas since the redeployments. Civilian casualties have also increased, including five civilians reportedly killed in an air strike in Taizz on 3 December.

In parallel, hostilities have continued along nearly 50 front lines across the country. In recent weeks, this has resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure following renewed air strikes in Sana’a, heavy clashes in Sa’ada, and missiles landing near IDP camps and other incidents.

All parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law at all times, including obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to facilitate impartial humanitarian relief.

We also renew our calls for Ansar Allah to stop the Marib offensive and for parties to adopt a nationwide ceasefire that will end the fighting everywhere else.

In the meantime, aid agencies are doing everything they can to help. In Marib, Hudaydah and Taizz, humanitarian partners have provided emergency aid to about 80 per cent of recently displaced persons.

And across the country, the wider aid operation is helping more than 11 million people every month – or about one third of the population. These programmes are making an enormous difference.

But they also face serious gaps in their ability to provide a comprehensive response to the most vulnerable people in Marib and elsewhere. This year’s response plan originally aimed to help 16 million people – or about 5 million more than we have actually managed to reach.

Funding constraints are one major reason for the gap, and they are about to get worse. Looming shortfalls mean the World Food Programme must consider cutting back food rations for millions of hungry people in the coming weeks and months. UNICEF may also have to cut back support for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children, as well as water and sanitation activities.

Critical sectors like water, sanitation, health and shelter have been drastically under-funded all year, receiving no more than 20 per cent of requirements. Camp coordination – an absolutely essential service for an effective IDP response, including protection of women and children, in places like Marib – has received just 9 per cent of requirements.

We call on donors to increase their support for Yemen and, especially, to ensure their support does not decrease next year. We expect the 2022 response plan to be about as big as this year’s, which asked for US$3.85 billion to help 16 million people. Nationwide assessments are under way now to support this.

Beyond funding, humanitarian partners are also thinking carefully about how we can improve our own operations. An inter-agency evaluation of the Yemen response is under way now.

Results will be out in the new year, and findings will be incorporated into the 2022 response plan.

And, of course, we continue to call on all parties to facilitate principled aid delivery in Yemen, in line with international humanitarian law. Aid agencies still too often face delays at checkpoints, visa problems, security threats, harassment and other obstacles.

Despite some improvements over the last year, many of the most difficult challenges persist in areas controlled by Ansar Allah, including restrictions on the movement of aid workers and unacceptable attempts to interfere with the selection of partners or beneficiaries. This has to stop.

We are also extremely disappointed that Ansar Allah authorities continue to detain two United Nations staff members in Sana’a as the Special Envoy mentioned – despite assurances from their leadership, which we conveyed to you last month, that they would be quickly released. To date, we have had no access to the detained staff and have received no official information regarding their arrest.

In Government-held areas, aid agencies are concerned by an apparent rise in bureaucratic hurdles, including visa delays and cumbersome procedures to approve aid projects. We have raised these issues with the Government and are working together to resolve them.

We are likewise deeply concerned by the arrest several weeks ago of a United Nations contractor in Marib. Despite requests to senior Government officials, the United Nations has not been granted access to the person in question, nor have we received any official information on the arrest.

This arrest, like the ones in Sana’a, appear to be violations of the privileges and immunities of the United Nations. We call for immediate access to the staff and for official information to be shared regarding the arrests.

But Mr. President, the biggest challenge for the aid operation is actually not funding, access or security. It is the fact that – despite scaling up assistance – the underlying problems just keep getting worse.

That’s because Yemen’s economy remains in freefall, pushing millions more people into dependence on humanitarian aid. But humanitarian aid is not the way to solve these problems.

As I said last month, there are substantial opportunities to improve the economic situation right away – even before the war ends. Everyone – including donors, Member States and the parties themselves – should act on these opportunities now.

The UN has developed an economic framework that sets out a way forward. Yemen mostly relies on commercial imports to meet its survival needs, and so the framework mostly seeks to boost purchasing power, reduce the cost of imported goods, and improve macro-economic stability.

This will require a mix of financial and political investments. For example, funding will be needed to resume foreign-exchange injections through the Central Bank. These injections would, as in the past, help stabilize the Yemeni rial – a key factor in people’s ability to afford food and other essential goods.

The Government is keen to work with partners to devise a feasible programme for these injections. I note the recent appointment of a new Governor and Board of Directors for the Central Bank in Aden, and I urge Yemen’s partners to work closely with them to improve economic conditions in the country.

Other measures in the economic framework will require political commitments, like lifting restrictions on commercial imports through the Red Sea ports. Ending these restrictions will help lower commodity prices, and import revenue could then be used to pay civil servant salaries, which a quarter of Yemenis rely on. The UN is eager to work with everyone to find a way to make this happen.

The vision is to roll out these and other economic framework activities in parallel to the humanitarian response next year. As the economy improves, humanitarian needs will start to reduce. Eventually, the size of the aid operation could start to reduce as well.

To be clear though, we aren’t there yet. Yemen still requires a massive humanitarian response at least through next year. As we deliver that response, we will need adequate funding for all sectors, and we will need all parties to ensure an operating environment that facilitates principled aid delivery.

We are also calling on everyone to do more to help Yemen put an end to this crisis for good.

That means implementing the UN economic framework in parallel to the humanitarian response right now – helping people both to survive and to take care of themselves.

It also means moving towards a political solution as quickly as possible – and here I want to offer my unqualified support for the Special Envoy’s call for regular and unconditional access to the parties.

Peace is the only sustainable solution in Yemen, and to achieve peace, everyone must be willing to talk.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.