Humanitarian Affairs Chief Decries Widespread Famine in Yemen, Urging Immediate Security Council Action to Prevent ‘Massive’ Loss of Life, Economic Collapse
8361ST MEETING (PM)
Permanent Representative Says Houthi-Controlled Areas Plagued by Crime, Violence
Against a “bleak” landscape in Yemen marred by a worsening humanitarian crisis, intensified fighting and attacks cutting off vital food and trade routes, the international community must take swift, concerted action to prevent a widespread famine, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs told the Security Council today.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” said Mark Lowcock, who is also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, emphasizing that years of fighting triggered a devastating cholera outbreak and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Further, a dramatic economic collapse meant that 75 per cent of the country required assistance or protection, with 18 million people now food insecure.
To address those and other concerns, he asked the Council for support in three areas in order to prevent a complete collapse while safeguarding the lives of millions: take immediate measures to stabilize the economy; ensure that all stakeholders uphold their civilian-protection obligations; and request that all parties find practical solutions to ensure the opening of an air bridge that will enable civilians to seek outside medical treatment for diseases no longer treatable inside Yemen.
“Of course, the parties need to get around the negotiating table and engage seriously with the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on a positive path towards peace,” he stressed.
Many members pressed the Council to play its role, with Equatorial Guinea’s representative calling the human cost is unacceptable. He condemned attacks on public areas, urging parties to cease hostilities and enable aid delivery.
Peru’s delegate said that following the adoption of resolution 2436 (2018) on civilian protection today, the Council must ensure swift action, support a ceasefire and step up efforts to bring parties to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, France’s representative said the Council must support the efforts of international financial institutions to address Yemen’s economic crisis.
Highlighting other concerns, Kuwait’s representative said the Council must send a message to the parties — and the Houthis in particular — making clear that it is unacceptable for Council resolutions to be ignored. The Russian Federation’s delegate, calling on all parties to cooperate with the Special Envoy, condemned any unilateral strikes against Saudi Arabia or other neighbouring States, which will only widen gaps of trust. He proposed launching a “package of security and confidence-building measures” and stressed that “threats and confrontation must give way to cooperation and dialogue”.
On that point, Yemen’s delegate, noting that areas under Houthi control are plagued by crime, violence and poverty, said the conversation on confidence-building measures rests on that reality. The militia has intensified fighting in the Hodeidah area, hindering civilian movement. Stressing that the Government and the coalition are working to secure compromised roads for humanitarian access, he requested the United Nations help address the currency devaluation crisis.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Kingdom, Poland, Peru, Sweden, Bolivia, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Ethiopia and the United States.
The meeting began at 3:27 p.m. and ended at 4:57 p.m.
MARK LOWCOCK, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the situation in Yemen is “bleak” and deteriorating alarmingly against a backdrop of a losing fight against famine. “We may now be approaching a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he added. Noting that years of fighting has triggered a devastating cholera outbreak and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, he said a dramatic economic collapse at the beginning of the year has meant that 75 per cent of the country is in need of assistance or protection, with 18 million people being food insecure.
The humanitarian situation remains stable because the worst crisis has attracted the world’s largest, and among the most effective, humanitarian relief efforts, he said, citing such initiatives as the United Nations response plan, which sees organizations providing assistance to 8 million of the most vulnerable people, and an intensive campaign that has kept a third wave of Yemen’s cholera outbreak at bay. The relief effort has made gains through support from United Nations agencies, Yemeni aid workers, generous funding and the Coalition’s deconfliction system, which makes humanitarian operations possible.
However, two recent developments threaten to overwhelm aid operations, he cautioned. Economic deterioration is expected to result in an additional 3.5 million people becoming food-insecure, and the situation is exacerbated by the depreciation of the rial, as well as access problems, which led to sharp increases in fuel prices. At the same time, intensified fighting around the port of Hodeidah and surrounding roads is choking the lifeline upon which aid operations and commercial markets depend, he said, adding that fighting has also blocked access to World Food Programme (WFP) supplies and that armed groups have occupied humanitarian facilities.
He went on to state that as efforts continue to scale up the humanitarian response, organizations simply cannot respond to the needs of all 29 million Yemenis. “That is untenable,” he stressed, asking the Council for support in three key areas in order to prevent a complete collapse while safeguarding the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people: take immediate measures to stabilize the economy; ensure that all stakeholders uphold their civilian-protection obligations; and request that all parties find practical solutions to pressing issues, including the opening of an air bridge that will enable civilians to seek medical outside treatment for diseases no longer treatable inside Yemen. “Of course, the parties need to get around the negotiating table and engage seriously with the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on a positive path towards peace,” he said.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), echoing concerns about grave distress across Yemen and that the situation in Hodeidah stands close to famine, urged all Council members to “do everything possible” to demonstrate in practical terms their commitments to upholding international law. That includes the protection of civilians, she said, emphasizing that all parties must facilitate the flow of food and other humanitarian assistance across the country. Expressing concern over reports that military action is making main roads unsafe, she said ports and supply routes — including commercial ones — must be kept open. Urgent action is also needed to stabilize Yemen’s economy, she said, voicing concern over the riyal’s rapid devaluation and its impact on families. The Council must consider ways to help stabilize that situation, she stressed, calling on all sides to cooperate more intensely with Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other partners on the ground.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said Houthi groups continue to set up military control posts aimed at hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance, while also cutting off the route between Hodeidah and Sana’a. In addition, the absence of a Houthi delegation at recent political talks hindered the quest for a political solution to the conflict. Noting that the Houthis also control the port of Hodeidah and threaten the safety of international maritime navigation, he said the Council’s own Panel of Experts confirmed Houthi responsibility for recent attacks on an oil tanker and a commercial vessel transporting grain. The Council must send a message to the parties — and the Houthis in particular — making clear that it is unacceptable for Council resolutions to be ignored. Nor can ballistic missile strikes against neighbouring States, the recruitment of children or the use of civilians as human shields ever be tolerated, he said.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said the de-escalation of fighting around Hodeidah will help facilitate the Special Envoy’s important political efforts. Force and pressure against one party must be avoided, he stressed, noting that, in other cities, such as Sana’a, there exists a genuine opportunity to reach agreements on prisoner exchanges and public sector salaries. Calling on all parties to cooperate with the Special Envoy, he condemned any unilateral strikes against Saudi Arabia or other neighbouring States, which will only widen gaps of trust between the parties. Finding solutions to the conflict in Yemen will also help stabilize the situation across the subregion, he said. He proposed launching a “package of security and confidence building measures” — to be agreed by all States in the region including Gulf States and Iran — and stressed that “threats and confrontation must give way to cooperation and dialogue”.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed cautious optimism over the last Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen, recalling that only 10 days later the deterioration of the situation and humanitarian crisis must again be acknowledged. She observed sadly the escalation of violence in Hodeidah governorate, with armed clashes moving closer to the city every day. Noting that Hodeidah is a crucial lifeline for millions of people, with a major impact on all other Yemeni governorates, she called on all parties to step up action to ensure accessibility to all roads and to keep open and functional all ports, including Hodeidah, Ras Isa and Saleef, for aid delivery. There are alarming reports of targeting of civilian infrastructure including a hospital and school bus. she reaffirmed support for the Special Envoy, insisting the conflict requires a political solution, and calling on all parties to respect international law and cease violence.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), emphasizing that the crisis has seen severe violations of international humanitarian law, said that on the heels of adopting resolution 2436 (2018) on civilian protection today, the Council must ensure swift action. Efforts must be stepped up to bring parties to the negotiating table at a time when the humanitarian crisis worsens. The Council must act to achieve a sustained ceasefire, he said, underlining the need to build trust among the parties.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), stating the situation in Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian disaster, said recent fighting on the main road between Hodeidah and Sana’a threatens hundreds of thousands of people if the city is cut off from the country’s north. Another 1 million children are at risk for famine, bringing the total to 5.2 million. Steps must be made towards urgent cessation of hostilities, with unhindered humanitarian access to ports and roads, and respect for international humanitarian law, including protection of civilians and medical and humanitarian personnel. Calling for intensified diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution, he cited next week’s High-Level United Nations General Assembly as an opportunity to pursue the peace process.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) raised a range of concerns about escalating tensions and their effects on humanitarian access. Civilians seeking to flee fighting must be able to do so. In addition, the port of Hodeidah and surrounding roads must also be operational to prevent the crisis from morphing into a widespread famine. She called for the full access to populations in need, for the continuation of vaccination programmes and for actions to be taken to protect civilians. The Council must support the efforts of international financial institutions to address Yemen’s economic crisis. All steps must be taken to rekindle dialogue between the parties to address urgent concerns and advance towards a political settlement to the conflict.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said easing the suffering of civilians depended on securing the Hodeidah area. The human cost is unacceptable, he said, condemning attacks on public areas and appealing to the parties to cease hostilities and enable aid delivery. Commending efforts to deal with the cholera outbreak, he remained alarmed at the health situation. The international community and the Council must continue to support the Yemeni people and work towards ending the crisis.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) shared concerns about the rising numbers of civilian victims, saying intensified fighting around crucial ports would have a grave impact on an already struggling population. Military actions run counter to United Nations principles and efforts to bring parties to the negotiating table. The Council must support initiatives that aim at launching dialogue, he said, appealing to all parties to contribute to such efforts.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said the fighting around Hodeidah places an additional 1 million children — who are already severely food insecure — at risk of falling into famine. Emphasizing that the situation brings shame on the international community, she expressed concern about access constraints around the city as well. The incapacitation of Hodeidah port or the disruption of its supply chain to heavily populated areas will be the “tipping point for a full-blown famine”, she warned, urging the Council to prevent any further deterioration. Also voicing concern about Yemen’s failing economy, she said the recent devaluation of its currency — together with rising food prices and the non-payment of public sector salaries for over two years — is proving to be a lethal combination for ordinary people. “Experts warn that the economic collapse has the potential to kill even more Yemenis than the violence underlying it,” she stressed, calling on the parties to come together to address that issue with the utmost urgency. Noting that the Council today adopted a presidential statement on the protection of civilians, she declared: “The words in this statement will be meaningless if we do not insist on their implementation in the crises on the Council’s agenda.”
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing concern about the suffering of the Yemeni people, said steps must be taken to address the dire situation. He appealed for the mobilization of emergency services and funding to alleviate fears of an imminent famine. All parties must respect international humanitarian law, he stressed.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), alarmed by the resumption of fighting, said clashes are likely to worsen an already grave situation. He called on parties to cease hostilities and ensure humanitarian aid is delivered to ease the needs of the Yemeni people. Efforts must also be made towards finding a resolution to the conflict.
WU HAITAO (China) echoed concerns that the escalating conflict in Yemen is exacerbating the already dire situation of civilians — something the international community “cannot endure”. Urging the parties to shelve their differences, and the international community to scale up assistance, help in taming price hikes and keep commerce moving. Meanwhile, the parties should work together to facilitate the flow of humanitarian goods, paving the way for an end to the humanitarian crisis. In addition, he continued, they should urgently resume peace talks and implement confidence-building measures, while Member States and other partners continue to support the work of the Special Envoy and his good offices. In that regard, China supports an inclusive political solution, reached through dialogue, which will fully preserve Yemen’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, he said.
TAYE ATSKE SELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia), describing Hodeidah as a lifeline for civilians who depend on humanitarian assistance, called upon the parties to do everything possible to keep the port open while protecting civilians and civilian facilities. The launching of missiles against Saudi Arabia and striking at commercial vessels is unacceptable, he stressed, voicing concern that despite the Special Envoy’s recent efforts, fighting continues to escalate. The ultimate solution to the conflict will arrive through a comprehensive political dialogue that meets the legitimate needs of Yemen’s people, he said, welcoming the Special Envoy’s shuttle diplomacy efforts and calling upon the parties to engage without preconditions.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States), Council President for September, spoke in her national capacity, recalling that journalists visiting Yemen recently encountered starving families subsisting on leaves and unable to feed their children. The photos of those families “are almost too much to take”, she said, emphasizing that Yemen’s humanitarian needs are so vast and challenging that it is hard to know who needs help and how to get it there. Calling upon the Council to act in the face of the severe crisis, she urged the parties to protect civilians and civilian facilities, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief alongside United Nations and other partners, and refrain from moving ahead with any new restrictions on food, fuel or other supplies headed for Yemen. “We are not helpless,” she stressed, calling on all Council members to focus on ending the fighting, not making it worse.
AHMED AWAD BIN MUBARAK (Yemen) said the deteriorating humanitarian situation must be addressed by examining the root causes. Recalling that the Houthi militia, supported by Iran, launched a coup that is dragging the country into civil war, he said the Government is exerting every effort to extend its hand in peace, working with the Special Envoy. The only path to take is one of peace and good governance, he emphasized, adding that the Council has agreed on a path to peace, including the Gulf initiative, the only route to take. However, he expressed regret that discussions scheduled for Geneva did not take place.
On the humanitarian crisis, he said areas under Houthi control are plagued by crime, violence and poverty, and the crux of the conversation on confidence-building measures rests on that reality. Meanwhile, the militia stage attacks and have intensified fighting in the Hodeidah area, wreaking more havoc on civilians and hindering their movement. He said the Government and the Coalition are actively working to secure compromised roads in order to ensure humanitarian access to vulnerable populations and have informed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about alternate routes from Hodeidah to Sana’a. Regarding the economy, he asked the United Nations and other international actors to help the Government address Yemen’s currency devaluation crisis.
For information media. Not an official record.