Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock - Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, 16 March 2021

News and Press Release
Originally published


Thank you very much, Madam President.

We and my colleagues in the leadership of the humanitarian system, we have been warning you for a long time now that Yemen is speeding towards a massive famine and that the main reason why things have got so much worse on the humanitarian side is because of the shortage of resources.

As you know, on 1 March, the Secretary-General convened a pledging event for Yemen, cohosted by Sweden and Switzerland.

Several donors, including Canada, France, Germany and Japan, pledged more than ever at that event. I released another US$40 million from the CERF, and the Yemen Humanitarian Fund has just allocated $73 million.

Altogether, the event on 1 March raised $1.7 billion.

But that is less than half of what we need for this year’s response plan. It is nearly $1 billion less than we received in 2019.

And it will mean that we will not reverse the protracted process of prolonged starvation which millions of people across Yemen have been subject to, ending in their death, especially for women and children, an experience I have described to you before. So what we had on 1 March was a down payment, and more efforts will be needed.

Of course, money is not the only factor. I want to echo everything Martin has said about the Ansar Allah offensive in Marib. Particularly, we are concerned about the 1 million people who already fled from other places to Marib.

There is additional displacement already as a result of the ongoing onslaught. It is, at the moment, at a relatively low level – about 15,000 people – as a result of the current battle. But what we are worried about is that if the escalation continues, the numbers of people will mount exponentially.

And as Martin said, hostilities in Marib have also set off escalations elsewhere, notably in Taizz, Hudaydah and Hajjah.

I also want to echo everything Martin said about the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. I completely agree with everything he said to you about the devastating fire that ripped through an overcrowded migrant detention centre in Sana’a on 7 March.

But we also saw on 4 March at least 20 people drowned when human traffickers forced dozens of passengers to jump off a crowded boat bound for Yemen. And that was the third such drowning in six months.

And, as Martin said, everybody in Yemen, wherever they originate from, is entitled to protection and support. And we urge all of the authorities across the country to reduce the hurdles that humanitarian agencies face in helping those people. Let me say a few words, Madam President, next on humanitarian access.

The Government of Yemen has been working with us recently to address several ongoing concerns, all which I talked about before, on things like project approvals and other administrative constraints. They have also been working with us in a crucial way on preparing for a planned COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

We continue to face many obstacles in the North. Last year, as we told you previously, we did see important improvements on key issues like assessments and biometric targeting. And that process needs to continue.

I want to say a few words about the economic situation. Again, building on what Martin has said, because the economic collapse is a major driver of the ongoing progress and expansion of the potentially huge famine. The economic collapse also fuels instability, by the way, as is evidenced by the recent protests which Martin referred to.

There are two straightforward things to do to mitigate the dire straits of Yemen’s economy. The first is to strengthen the currency, the Yemeni rial, which has slipped again into an alarming depreciation in recent months, which means that more and more people can no longer afford food or other essential items.

We know that, in the past, the provision of foreign exchange has stabilized the currency, and we know it can do it again. And I have discussed this in detail with the Prime Minister and others in the Government, and we know they want help in this area. And I do really urge Yemen’s partners to address this request with the seriousness and importance that it deserves.

The other issue that needs to be addressed relates to the blockade of commercial imports, which Martin referred to, especially the decision by the Government of Yemen and others not to allow fuel into Hudaydah.

Fuel, as everybody knows and understands, is essential if you want to transport food, or pump water, or keep hospitals open.

Fuel prices have doubled or tripled in some areas as a result of the desperate shortages that there now are. And that, of course, is also pushing up prices of food and health care and everything else.

We have, in fact, seen more reports of health facilities closing down in the last several weeks because they have run out of fuel.

Now, the Government has blocked all commercial fuel imports to Hudaydah, through which more than half of Yemen’s fuel imports come. All of those imports have been blocked since January.

And right now, there are 13 fuel ships waiting outside Hudaydah, carrying enough supplies for about two months. On average, those ships have been waiting more than 80 days for government clearance. All of them, by the way, have been inspected and cleared by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism.

You are all familiar with the origins of this problem – the dispute between the Government and Ansar Allah over revenue. But the consequences of this, as always in Yemen, are not borne by those making the decisions. The consequences are borne by ordinary Yemenis. And this again contributes to the protractive process of prolonged starvation I described earlier.

Let me finally, Madam President, reinforce what Martin has said about the need for progress towards peace.

And I again repeat that, in our view, the renewed US commitment to a diplomatic solution and the US focus on the humanitarian tragedy of Yemen does provide the best opportunity we have seen for years to resolve the conflict and get the parties to the table, and find a way forward for the people in the country. And that is still true despite the recent escalation.

But that opportunity needs to be taken. It won’t be possible to take it if Yemen tips into a huge famine, so we have to stop the famine.

But the parties need to engage in the peace process as well and, in order to do that, Ansar Allah have to stop the dangerous Marib offensive. The fuel blockade on Hudaydah needs to end, commercial goods must be let in, and Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire – not just in Marib, but across the country – and, to say it again, a return to the political process.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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