Regular Press Briefing by the Information Service, 14 December 2018: Yemen - Peace talks and impact for WFP


Yemen - Peace talks and impact for WFP

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, referred journalists to the documents distributed on the previous day about the positive outcome of the recent consultations with the parties to the conflict in Yemen that had been held in Sweden this week. The United Nations Security Council would today hear reports from Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, via video link from Amman, about the outcome of the consultations and from Mark Lowcock, Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Hervé Verhoosel, for the World Food Programme (WFP), made the following statement:

“The World Food Programme welcomes the UN Secretary General’s announcement of military de-escalation in the governorates of Taiz and Hodeidah – two densely populated zones in Yemen which have seen some of the most intense fighting. I was in Stockholm for the first two days of the peace talks, and I would like to commend the determination of UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and UN secretary General Antonio Guterres, in bringing the two parties to the negotiating table to make progress for millions of Yemenis. The warring parties have committed to an immediate ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah and its surrounding governorate at the end of the weeklong peace talks.

A province-wide ceasefire in Hodeidah - the principal lifeline for two thirds of the country - should mean better humanitarian access and a sustained flow of food, fuel and commercial and humanitarian goods to the war-stricken population. This agreement has the potential to allow the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef to operate at near-normal capacity. The free flow of commercial food supplies into Yemen should prevent further increases in food prices which have skyrocketed.

Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food and the port of Hodeidah receives 70 per cent of these imports. With the conflict intensifying over recent weeks, we have seen a decrease by about 50 per cent in shipments into Hodeida port operations as shipping companies were reluctant to use the port due to fighting.

Hodeidah has been a lifeline for Yemen and WFP, and has been a key asset for bringing in humanitarian supplies through its port with its eight berthing stations for potential use. Early this year, WFP brought four gantry mobile cranes to Hodeidah which doubled the port’s capacity to handle containerized and break-bulk cargo.

Also critical to both humanitarian operations and to the commercial sector are the Red Sea Mills which have been cut off by the fighting since September. They currently store 51,000 tons of WFP wheat stocks - enough to assist 3.7 million people in northern and central Yemen for one month - and represent one quarter of WFP’s wheat flour milling capacity in the country. This ceasefire will hopefully give us the possibility to use this facility and dispatch this stock.

In the most recent food security assessment (IPC), hunger was more severe in active conflict zones with some of the worst-affected areas in Hodeidah, According to the 06 December IPC report, without humanitarian access in Hodeidah we will see 69 percent of the population - 2.048 million people - in IPC Phase 3 (crisis) or above, 1.02 million of which in IPC Phase 4, and 23,000 in IPC Phase 5, Emergency. Last month, WFP targeted nearly 800,000 people in Hodeidah with either commodity vouchers or in-kind food assistance.

The enclave in Taiz city, which has also seen heavy fighting since the beginning of the conflict, has remained an area which has posed serious access challenges for WFP operations. Without humanitarian food assistance, 73 percent of the population (2.244 million people) would end up in IPC phase 3 or above, 1.294 million in phase 4, and 45,000 people living in near-famine conditions (IPC Phase 5)

Hodeidah and Taiz will benefit the most from this ceasefire, which should give better access to the millions of people severely food insecure in these regions. Our top priority is ensuring that all families considered to be in IPC phase 5 are assisted immediately.

The world’s largest humanitarian relief operation is underway in Yemen. WFP scaling up its operation to reach 10 million of the most vulnerable people in Yemen this month - an increase from the 7-8 million WFP has been assisting since per month since last August - with plans to reach up to 12 million in January 2019. As part of this scale-up, WFP is also aligning its nutrition support to young children and to pregnant and breastfeeding women to areas at risk of famine each month, assisting 1.5 million with special nutrition support by the end of January, and 2 million women and children by the end of 2019.

To give you an idea of the scale, in January 2017 we were assisting 3.5 million people in Yemen per month with food rations. Nearly two years later, WFP operations have more than tripled this number. This is one of the largest operations for WFP.

Already, as of 13 December, 52,375.78 metric tonnes of life saving food rations have been dispatched, representing nearly half of the estimated 107,324.68 metric tonnes WFP will dispatch for the month of December 2018.

In areas where fighting has been fiercest in Hodeidah, WFP has conducted emergency food distributions so families have not had to venture out onto the streets in search of food.

We hope that this peace breakthrough will mean better humanitarian access to those in need. We also hope it will make it easier for us to secure visas for our staff and clearances for equipment, and for us to monitor and report on our operations.”

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Verhoosel said that, if the ceasefire agreement was respected, WFP hoped to be able to reach those families considered to be in IPC phase 5 who were in Hodeidah province. It would also have greater flexibility in importing food and accessing the rest of the country. WFP intended to begin scaling up nutrition for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women; there were some nutrition supplies already in the country and others would be imported. WFP further hoped that the second round of consultations proposed to take place in January would result in increased access to other parts of the country. As funding contributions, USD 152 million would be needed each month for the scaled up programme. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had participated in the funding of the various United Nations agencies, including WFP, in the past. An additional USD 500 million was to be made available for distribution between agencies. The agreed ceasefire was of crucial importance in restoring security and efficiency to the port of Hodeidah and thus convincing the private sector to return to Hodeidah.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the agreement reached in Sweden covered Hodeidah port and city and the ports of Salif and Ras Issa. It concerned the establishment of an immediate ceasefire in the governorate and the redeployment of armed forces to outside the ports and the city, overseen by a committee chaired by the United Nations. The United Nations would also play a leading role in supporting the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in management and inspections at the three ports. Security would be the responsibility of local security forces in accordance with the law of Yemen. It would also assist, for instance, in the channelling of revenues from the ports to the Central Bank of Yemen through its branch in Hodeidah to contribute to salaries in the governatorate and throughout the country. The Secretary-General and his Special Envoy had indicated the possibility of a Security Council resolution on the monitoring of the agreement on Hodeidah and the ports.

Ravina Shamdasani, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that, in the light of credible reports of war crimes having been committed in the conflict in Yemen and the high numbers of civilian casualties, the High Commissioner had called on all countries involved in any way to reassess their involvement and to exert all possible pressure to bring the conflict to an end and ensure that all parties respect international humanitarian law, particularly as concerned the protection of civilians.