New York, March 15, 2022
Mr President and distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to brief you today on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
After more than seven years of war, Yemen is becoming what humanitarians often call a “chronic emergency”. And, as aid workers know, chronic emergencies carry serious risks, namely inertia and fatigue.
We must avoid giving in to these forces.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will join the President of Switzerland and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden to organize a high-level event for donors in Yemen. Aid agencies are seeking nearly US$4.3 billion to help more than 17 million people across the country this year.
Yemen suffers globally from the terrible statistic that it has the highest percentage of its total population in need. This is why we hear so often that this is one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters.
Tomorrow’s event isn’t just about the money – although it’s hugely important. It is also an opportunity for the international community to show that we are not giving up on Yemen, even after all these years and with the emergence of new crises. And this is a very important message.
Because, Mr. President, Yemen still urgently needs help. Hunger, disease and other miseries are increasing faster than aid agencies can reverse them.
New national assessments by our humanitarian partners in Yemen confirm that 23.4 million people are now in need of some form of assistance. It’s three out of four – and it’s the astonishing number that is so deeply troubling.
Of these, 19 million will die of starvation, an increase of almost 20% since last year. And we believe, and I use those words with caution, that more than 160,000 of those people will face near-starvation conditions.
Despite numerous calls for dialogue and a ceasefire, hostilities persist on nearly 50 front lines. This includes Marib, where the Houthi offensive has continued for two years to this day, and Hajjah, where clashes have escalated sharply in recent weeks.
Last year, hostilities killed or injured more than 2,500 civilians and forced nearly 300,000 people to flee their homes – to conclude with 4.3 million people displaced in Yemen since 2015.
The war has also accelerated Yemen’s economic problems, plunging more families into destitution. This collapse is one of the main drivers of humanitarian needs. We see that in so many of the crises that we discuss in this chamber. Unfortunately, the outlook is bleak.
Yemen depends on commercial imports for around 90% of its food and almost all of its fuel and other essentials. Many of these goods may soon be much harder to obtain and at a higher cost.
About a third of Yemen’s wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine, where the current conflict could restrict supply and drive up food prices – which already nearly doubled in Yemen last year – and it could go a long way. upper. But there is no doubt about the consequence, the harm it will cause to the lives of so many Yemeni families.
Fuel imports have also fallen sharply recently in Hudaydah. Fuel volumes last month were less than half the average. This decline is contributing to fuel shortages and rising prices, which are expected to worsen as energy prices continue to rise globally.
All of this means that Yemen’s economy, dependent on imports, due to events that have nothing to do with Yemen, is even more fragile today than just a few weeks ago. The Yemeni economy needs all of our support, including through currency injections and other measures, and to avoid risking further damage.
We very much hope that the governments of the region will also consider this as an urgent priority.
Much of what I have just described will be so familiar to this Council, so familiar to me and to the international community as a whole. Why? Because since 2015, donors have spent nearly $14 billion on UN appeals to reduce suffering, and that is an exceptional, extraordinary and generous sum.
More than 75% of this money comes from just six donors: the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Commission, which paid a large part of this bill.
I would like to thank all the donors, including those, of course, for this exceptional generosity over the years. This has made a huge difference, and it is important to take stock of what this generosity, the program and the humanitarian response have achieved.
First and foremost, for the dog that doesn’t bark, there was no mass starvation in Yemen, as we have been so often reminded. The country has repeatedly gone down this dark path, including early last year, only to be pulled back by timely and well-funded humanitarian action. It is a significant success.
The new food security figures I mentioned earlier show how important it is to maintain this, to maintain this effort, to contain and postpone the prospect of such a famine.
Early research also indicates that humanitarian action helped keep morbidity and mortality rates stable during the conflict. In other words, without the level of response, many more people in Yemen would have gotten sick and many would have died. This is another critical result.
These and other achievements are the result of collective action, not the action of one person. Last year, more than 200 aid agencies – the vast majority of them Yemeni non-governmental organizations – worked together in coordination with international organizations, including the United Nations, through the response plan that we will launch this year, tomorrow, to help nearly 12 million people every month. And this help, it reaches all 333 districts across the country.
However, we have always been clear that providing this help is much more difficult than it should be.
We are particularly alarmed by the growing insecurity of UN staff and other humanitarian workers, including the recent kidnappings of staff. Efforts continue at all levels to secure their release.
These kidnappings – in addition to an increase in carjackings and other incidents – could signal the start of a very dangerous trend.
Houthi authorities also continue to detain two UN staff members who were arrested in Sanaa last November – a totally unacceptable violation of UN privileges and immunities.
Beyond security risks, aid agencies also continue to face the usual bureaucratic and other hurdles that impede their work. These issues are particularly severe in Houthi-controlled areas, where they include movement restrictions, attempts to interfere with aid operations and other challenges. Last year, such obstacles delayed or otherwise affected assistance to millions of people.
Here, too, there have been some improvements. Over the past two years, the agencies have worked closely with donors – many of whom are represented in this room – and other stakeholders to address these challenges, these obstacles, through detailed negotiations.
One of the major improvements is the completion of the three new needs assessments that produced the numbers I cited earlier.
But there is still a lot of work to do. Many more improvements are still needed, especially in data collection, monitoring and other areas – those perhaps boring but absolutely essential elements of an effective response plan. This remains a top priority for agencies and donors, working closely together this year and meeting tomorrow.
The Inter-Agency Humanitarian Assessment, a massive operation, a huge task, will be released in the coming weeks, and that will help us as well. It is an objective review of humanitarian performance.
On a separate and positive note, the Houthi authorities in Sanaa signed a memorandum of understanding on the SAFER tanker last week. This confirms the agreement in principle that we announced last month, which David Gressly, the humanitarian leader in Yemen, is working on, and brings the world one step closer to solving a very dangerous problem. And it is to be hoped that this will be done at the latest in May.
When I was in Hans’ place, I often spoke to this Council about that, about the difficulties that the UN encountered in trying to obtain an agreement on that. Hope it works, and a big thank you to the Government of the Netherlands for their support and assistance in making this private sector hybrid operation happen.
But all of these achievements are now in jeopardy as aid agencies face alarming and unprecedented funding shortages, as I warned last month.
Amazing to say, but two-thirds of major UN programs have already been cut or closed in recent months for lack of money, including deep cuts to basic services like food aid, water, health care and relief for people fleeing violence in Marib. and elsewhere.
So if we have a message here today, if I have a message today, Mr. President, for the world, it is this: Don’t stop now.
The United Nations and its members must continue to work together to help the millions of Yemenis who urgently need and deserve it. They need to show that being out of the headlines doesn’t mean being left behind.
We will be looking for generous contributions tomorrow and quick disbursement.
Attention and investment are also needed in the longer term to support Hans’s efforts because, as my predecessor has said every time in this Chamber, it is the efforts of the special envoy to bring peace and resolution of this conflict which is the hope of all of us and the highest priority.