United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Director of Coordination Division, Mr. Ramesh Rajasingham - Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, 16 January 2020



New York, 16 January 2020

As delivered

Thank you, Mr. President.

Every month, we brief the Security Council on five priority issues in Yemen: 1) respect for international humanitarian law and protection of civilians; 2) humanitarian access; 3) funding for the UN aid operation; 4) the Yemeni economy; and 5) progress towards peace.

Last year, we saw improvements on many of these issues. The Special Envoy has also just outlined important steps forward on the political track.

But events over the last two months remind us how volatile the situation remains.

First, on protection of civilians, Yemen is on the whole less dangerous for civilians than it was before the Stockholm Agreement a year ago. Civilian casualties in 2019 were about 35 per cent lower than the previous year, and civilian fatalities are down by almost half.

But it is still a very dangerous place. In recent weeks, we have seen hostilities flare again along several front lines, particularly in Al Dhale’e, Hudaydah and Shabwah. Although clashes have been mostly contained, we continue to see mass-casualty incidents across the country.

On 25 December, a market in Sa’ada was attacked for the third time in a month, killing at least eight civilians. Eighty-nine civilians have been killed or wounded in attacks at this same market since November.

Every day, we receive reports of civilians killed or injured when shells land on their homes, snipers fire on their communities, or landmines or other munitions explode. These smaller-scale incidents occur in a constant stream and receive less attention than they should.

Critical civilian infrastructure is not spared either. On 26 December, mortars again struck the Red Sea Mills in Hudaydah, forcing the World Food Programme to temporarily suspend milling.

It is unacceptable that civilians should so disproportionately bear the brunt of this conflict. At all times, the parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure. The best way to end such harm is to build on the deescalation measures the Special Envoy has described and to move as quickly as possible to a nationwide ceasefire.

Mr. President, the second issue is equally an obligation under international humanitarian law – unhindered humanitarian access. Our most recent data show that access constraints are affecting 6.7 million people who need assistance across the country. This figure has never been so high.

In recent briefings, you have heard about bureaucratic impediments, harassment and violence facing humanitarian agencies in northern Yemen.

Serious problems persist. Too many staff are harassed and threatened. Others are arbitrarily detained or unable to move freely, sometimes for extended periods. Humanitarian premises have been forcibly entered. Missions continue to be delayed or cancelled, which means people don’t receive the help they need on time.

We are engaging continuously with the Ansar Allah authorities on these concerns and hope to find practical solutions to ensure we can deliver assistance in accordance with humanitarian principles. Our donors have made it clear that they are watching this issue very closely as they make funding decisions for this year.

On a separate note, we were encouraged that senior Ansar Allah officials recently agreed – without conditions – to the assessment of the SAFER oil tanker, which is decaying off the coast of Hudaydah and at risk of rupturing. So we were disappointed when other Ansar Allah officials later reversed this position. We are following up with the authorities now to confirm how we might proceed.

In the south, humanitarian agencies also face constraints, and we are concerned that these recently seem to be intensifying.

Ongoing volatility remains an issue. Periodic clashes in Shabwah have prevented aid convoys from travelling along the southern coast several times, including just two weeks ago. The recent opening of Mukalla airport to humanitarian flights will go a long way towards addressing this challenge.

Humanitarians have also been directly targeted. Over several days in late December, the premises of four international humanitarian organizations in Al Dhale’e were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. These unprecedented attacks wounded one person and damaged property. As a result, 14 organizations suspended programmes benefiting 217,000 people in the area, although some of the most critical activities continued without interruption.

We are grateful to the Government of Yemen, local authorities and other stakeholders for working closely with us to improve security. Humanitarian organizations in the area are now working to resume their activities safely.

We are also seeking the Government’s support on several proposed regulations that would, we believe, hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In parallel, we continue to advocate faster procedures for project approvals and importation of key assets. We look forward to continuing this dialogue.

Despite all the challenges I have just described, we are still able to deliver the world’s largest aid programme in Yemen. The results speak for themselves. We pay tribute, again, to UN staff, as well as the staff of NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, for their incredible work.

The World Food Programme and its partners are providing food assistance to more than 12 million people every month across the country. With support from humanitarian agencies, 7 million people are able to access drinking water. Some 1.2 million medical consultations take place every month, and more than 2,000 health facilities are receiving support. There are many other examples.

This is only possible thanks to our generous donors, which brings me to the third point – funding for the aid operation. With nearly $3.5 billion received – or 83 per cent of our requirements and about a billion dollars more than in 2018 – last year’s response plan was relatively well resourced.

This year, Yemen will remain the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. We are doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of this crisis, including adding new programmes to boost the incomes of families facing famine conditions. However, key assessments are being delayed in the north. We are hoping these assessments can move forward in the weeks ahead. Because of our strong financial footing coming into the new year, we expect that we will be appealing for less than 2019.

Altogether, we aim to assist 15.6 million people this year. That’s about half the population. To do so we need all our donors to maintain their support. As always, flexible funding early in the year will make an enormous difference.

Mr. President, the fourth issue is the economy.

Because Yemen imports nearly everything, maintaining adequate commercial import flows is crucial to ensure people can access the goods they need to survive.

Commercial food imports have remained stable, and fuel imports have recovered since severe shortages in the north last September and October. In December, nearly 260,000 metric tons of commercial fuel entered Hudaydah – about a third more than usual and the second highest figure all year.

Fuel imports have been able to recover thanks to the parties’ willingness to work with the Special Envoy to establish a new mechanism to manage these imports. We commend the parties for this work.

We hope similar progress can be made regarding the Yemeni rial, which is again losing value.
Recent depreciation is at least partially due to a dispute over bank notes printed after 2016. In mid-December, Ansar Allah authorities issued a decree banning use of these notes in the north.

This decision is causing newer bank notes to pool in the south, and exchange rates are now diverging. In Aden, rates have been reported as high as 640 rial to the US dollar versus about 580 rial in the north. Both these figures are far higher than the 215-rate that prevailed before conflict escalated five years ago, meaning essential goods remain unaffordable for millions of people across the country.

Following the Ansar Allah decree, the Government announced that payments to civil servants and retirees in the north could not be made. We estimate that about a quarter of the population rely on these payments to make ends meet.

So with a rapidly depreciating rial and disrupted salary payments, we are again seeing some of the key conditions that brought Yemen to the brink of famine a year ago. We must not let that happen again.

With foreign currency reserves running very low, a first step is to establish a regular programme of foreign exchange injections. This would, as it did in the past, help bring the exchange rate down and – by extension – make it easier for people to afford what they need to survive. It would also buy more time to resolve the currency dispute without unravelling the entire economy. We hope Yemen’s partners will consider this as a matter of urgency.

Mr. President, the last point is progress towards peace. The Special Envoy has briefed you on several encouraging – if still fragile – developments. Certainly, we are closer now to peace than we were before the Stockholm Agreement last year.

That doesn’t mean peace is a foregone conclusion – far from it. But after five years of conflict, millions of Yemenis are hoping that this time, with your support, peace may finally come.
Thank you, Mr. President

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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