Yemen

Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Acting Director, Operations and Advocacy Division, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs remarks on behalf of the USG for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, at Security Council meeting on Yemen

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Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The extension of the truce that the Special Envoy [Hans Grundberg] has just described is extremely welcome.
In its first two months, the truce has had a tremendous impact. We have seen a drop in civilian casualties as fighting subsided. We have seen an end to severe shortages as more fuel comes in through Hudaydah. We have seen commercial flights resume from Sana’a airport, allowing more people to move in and out of the country. And we have seen better humanitarian access in several areas.

Extending the truce will, we hope, allow these trends to continue. It will also provide more time for efforts to re-open roads in Taiz and elsewhere. Improving freedom of movement is key to improving people’s lives and humanitarian conditions – particularly in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.

But, Mr. President, I must be clear: Yemen’s humanitarian crisis remains as severe today as it was before the truce. In fact, the crisis could soon deteriorate. Allowing this to happen would run counter to the momentum the truce has generated and could undermine prospects for future progress.

Right now, aid agencies are especially concerned by signs of growing needs, shrinking humanitarian space and falling budgets. We need urgent action to address all three.

Let me start with the first threat, Mr. President: growing needs.

As Members of the Council know, the war in Ukraine is driving up prices of food and other commodities worldwide, as well as straining global supply chains. Yemen is particularly vulnerable to these kinds of shocks because almost everything it needs – including nearly all of its food – must be imported.

We also know that more than half a million children were already likely to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year. And we estimate that 19 million people across the country are going hungry, including more than 160,000 who are at catastrophic levels of starvation and are on the brink of famine.

But since February, food prices in Yemen have risen by roughly almost 10 per cent. This increase comes on top of enormous rises over the previous year, when prices nearly doubled in many areas. Recent analysis by the Ministry of Planning projects prices could rise another 50 per cent by the end of the year. If this continues, many fewer people will be able to afford to eat.

Currency depreciation is making matters even worse. In April, the Yemeni rial strengthened considerably, helping to offset some impact of higher global prices. But the April gains have now been almost entirely erased, and people’s money is again losing value. That, too, will mean less food for hungry families.

And let’s not forget that most Yemenis don’t have much money to start with. This is a result of broader economic decline, including the erratic payment of civil servant salaries that up to one quarter of the population relies on.

We welcome recent discussions by the Governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on financial support for Yemen’s economy. Once disbursed, this support could quickly help to reign in the exchange rate, boost purchasing power and reduce hunger.

Beyond the food sector, needs likewise persist at or above pre-truce levels. Huge gaps continue in services such as water, health and education. Mine action is becoming urgent as well, particularly as the truce allows more civilians to move around front-line areas – many of which are contaminated with mines and other explosive ordnance of war.

More than 4 million people are also still displaced, including more than 7,000 who fled in the last two months only. Displacement during the truce period was mainly due to people searching for jobs and adequate food. People also fled due to clashes in some areas despite the truce. We hope the extended truce will see a more comprehensive end to fighting, including any localized clashes.

But Mr. President, the scale of the needs is not the only challenge. Aid agencies are also dealing with a growing set of access and security concerns. This leads me to a matter and the second threat: Yemen remains a highly constrained environment for aid work.

Despite limited access improvements in some areas during the truce time, agencies have actually faced more restrictions on staff movements in recent months, mainly due to regulations issued by local authorities in several areas. We are working with the authorities and other stakeholders to address these concerns as quickly as possible.

Agencies are also facing alarming levels of insecurity. Attempted carjackings, abductions and other attacks are all on the rise.

Two UN staff arrested in Sana’a last November remain in detention, and five UN staff kidnapped in Abyan in February are still missing. We renew our calls for the immediate release of all detained staff.

In just the last few weeks, at least 10 attempted carjackings have occurred in Lahj, Taiz, Abyan and Marib – including three attempts in a single day earlier this month. In some cases, these incidents have forced agencies to suspend activities, thereby diminishing the humanitarian dividends of the truce.

Amidst these attacks, agencies are also facing misinformation campaigns that are making baseless allegations and worsening insecurity. We are working with the Government and local authorities to address the rise in insecurity, as well as strengthening public outreach on what agencies are achieving and to remind all actors that humanitarian workers are not a target.

I also want to emphasize that, despite these challenges, agencies are still delivering aid across Yemen. More than 200 humanitarian partners – two-thirds of them Yemeni organizations – are reaching 11 million people every month with assistance, working through the UN response plan.

But, Mr. President, that plan is currently just 26 per cent funded – far from enough to last through the year. Underfunding is the third major threat facing the humanitarian situation right now. It is also the reason many essential programmes are scaling back when they should be expanding.

Food assistance has already been reduced for 8 million people. Other sectors essential to preventing famine – including nutrition, health, water and sanitation – are all currently funded below 25 per cent.

Services for displaced people in Marib, Hajjah, Taiz and other places are also struggling.

So far this year, shelter programmes are just 14 per cent funded, while activities to provide immediate relief for newly displaced families and coordinate services at displacement sites have received almost no funding at all.

To make matters worse, humanitarian aid in Yemen is getting more expensive as a result of the rising global prices I mentioned earlier. The World Food Programme estimates its monthly operating costs in Yemen have gone up by as much as $30 million due to surging prices in food, fuel and transport.

On a related note, the UN plan to address the threat of a catastrophic oil spill from the SAFER tanker remains stalled due to lack of funds. So far the United Nations has received about $60 million in pledges for the project. We thank all donors for this support, including pledges last week by the United States and Saudi Arabia. But the full plan needs $144 million, including $80 million to get started. This issue, as you know, becomes more dangerous by the hour.

Mr. President, we need urgent action on all these points to stop Yemen’s crisis going from bad to worse.

On 23 June, Sweden and the European Commission will host a meeting of senior humanitarian officials to discuss many of the issues I’ve just described. We welcome this opportunity to collaborate with donors on the major strategic challenges facing the response.

In parallel, agencies are striving to improve the quality of the response right now.

Recommendations from the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluation are central to this effort. The evaluation report should be finalized later this month, and we look forward to sharing it with you in the coming weeks.

In closing, Mr. President, the extension of the truce will, we hope, bring Yemen one step closer to ending the war altogether. Your support for these efforts, as you have just heard from the Special Envoy, remains crucial.

Your support to address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is equally important – not only to save lives right now, but to keep Yemen moving towards the just and sustainable peace that can finally end this crisis for good.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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