Middle East (Yemen) - Security Council Open VTC

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11-Nov-2020 02:24:52
Most urgent task in Yemen is to prevent widespread famine, humanitarian affairs chief tells Security Council, as speakers push for nationwide ceasefire.

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Yemen is again teetering on the brink of famine, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council during a 11 November video conference meeting, reiterating their calls for donors to scale up relief funding and for the warring parties to sign the Joint Declaration for a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures and the resumption of peace talks.

“There is no better option than a ceasefire, combined with a return to the political process, for the parties to create stability on the front lines,” said United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, calling on the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, to ink the Joint Declaration.

Mr. Griffiths, one of the four briefers in today’s meeting, said he has been mediating the Joint Declaration text for many months, adding that the same challenges have been coming up repeatedly, particularly with the economic and humanitarian measures. “I am the mediator and not the negotiator,” he said, stressing that “the parties negotiate with each other, and not with me”.

The fighting on the front lines has not been as intense as previous months, he reported, expressing concerns, however, over periodic spikes in violence between the parties in Ma’rib and Taiz Governorates, and the recent escalation in attacks on Saudi territory. The situation in and around the key port city of Hudaydah has become calmer, but the tensions between the parties persist. The United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) has continued its efforts to reactivate the Redeployment and Coordination Committee and other joint mechanisms to further cooperation between the parties.

Turning to the issue of the Safer oil tanker, moored off Hudaydah, he said that the United Nations has been trying to negotiate access for months for the expert mission to conduct an assessment of the condition of the vessel, apply initial repairs and formulate recommendations on what is required to avoid a spill. Although discussions have been constructive, it is yet to receive the approvals needed for the mission from the Houthis, he said.

Recalling that in 2019, the Government and the Southern Transitional Council signed the Riyadh Agreement under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, he noted that “this gave us all hope of greater stability in the southern governorates, improved functioning of State institutions and the prospect of genuine political cooperation between the signatories.”

To mark the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), his Office and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women) convened a meeting of 30 Yemeni women leaders, along with international partners, he reported. The women emphasized the importance of resuming negotiations, ending the war, enhancing women’s political participation and representation, as well as protection from political and gender‑based violence. To ensure these ideas become central to the negotiations, more women must be included in the parties’ delegations.

Mark Lowcock, Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the most urgent task in Yemen today is to prevent widespread famine. With no food, the body’s metabolism slows down to preserve energy for vital organs. Hungry and weak, people often become fatigued, irritable and confused. The immune system loses strength. So as they starve, people — especially children — are likelier to fall sick or die from diseases that they may have otherwise resisted. There is no shortage of diseases in Yemen that will prey on these weakened immune systems, including cholera, COVID‑19, other respiratory infections and illnesses like malaria, dengue and diphtheria.

For those who manage to escape disease — but still find nothing to eat — their vital organs will start to wither and then fail, he continued. Eventually, the body starts to devour its own muscles, including the heart. Many will experience hallucinations and convulsions before, finally, the heart stops. It is a terrible, agonizing and humiliating death — and it is particularly cruel in a world where there is in fact more than enough food for everyone. It is the fate the world has left hanging over millions of Yemeni men, women and especially children. Yemenis are not “going hungry”. They are being starved, he emphasized, imploring the parties to the conflict, Security Council members, donors, humanitarian organizations and others to do everything they can to stop this.

Mr. Lowcock said fighting continues along 48 front lines across the country, with the fiercest clashes occurring recently in Ma’rib, Al Jawf, Taiz and Al Dhale’e. The prospects of further escalation in Ma’rib, where 1 million displaced people are living, or renewed clashes in Hudaydah, whose port is a lifeline for millions in the north, remain deeply concerning. A nationwide ceasefire would go a long way to protecting civilians and help stop the slide towards famine.

Turing to the issue of safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access, he reported on two disturbing attacks against humanitarian staff. On 19 October, a Turkish Red Crescent worker was shot and seriously injured in Aden, and on 2 November, a grenade was thrown at an aid agency compound, also in Aden, he said, strongly condemning these attacks.

With seven weeks left in 2020, the United Nations response plan has received $1.5 billion, or about 45 per cent of requirements. This means that 9 million Yemenis could lose access to basic health services, and treatment of more than half a million malnourished children could stop. More money for the aid operation is the quickest and most efficient way to support famine prevention efforts right now, he said, imploring donors to fulfil outstanding pledges and to increase their support. A nationwide ceasefire, resuming salary payments and reopening Sana’a airport could be game‑changers, especially if they come along with more money for the relief effort.

David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), declared: “We are on a countdown to catastrophe in Yemen.” Already ravaged by years of conflict‑fuelled hunger and malnutrition, the Yemeni people now face a toxic mix of surging violence, deepening economic and currency collapse and COVID‑19. “If we choose to look away, Yemen will be plunged into a devastating famine within a few short months,” he warned. Recalling the sharp drop in the value of the Yemeni riyal in recent years, he said today the currency is worth only 844 riyals to $1, with predictions that it could soon plunge even further.

Also recalling his warning to the Council in 2018 that 12 million people were on the verge of famine, he said donors responded to his call and stepped up to pull Yemen back from the brink. “But, in the two years since, so much of our good work has been wiped out and, once again, famine is knocking at the door,” he said. Much time was wasted negotiating with the Houthi authorities for humanitarian access and for permission to set up the monitoring systems donors rightly expected in return for their taxpayer dollars. Those were coupled with a range of other unnecessary obstructions and endless delays, which continued even amid the onset of the coronavirus.

As a result, he said, WFP was forced in April to cut its rations to 9 million people living in areas controlled by Ansar Allah authorities. Each family now receives a full ration every two months, instead of every month. However, he cited a glimmer of good news, noting that on 8 November WFP had a breakthrough when it was finally able to begin a pilot biometric registration programme for beneficiaries in Sana’a City. “It is an important milestone — but one we should have reached two years ago,” he said, noting that the project will be crucial to giving donors the confidence needed to provide fresh funds and repairing the severe liquidity crisis facing Yemen.

Indeed, he continued, WFP could distribute up to $500 million in cash/liquidity and vouchers into the marketplace through beneficiaries in 2021. Such an influx would stabilize Yemen’s currency and get the economy moving again, allowing essential commodities to enter and meet consumer demand. “But Ansar Allah need to show they are willing to help us,” he stressed, including by meeting the five outstanding preconditions of the seven laid out by donors in February. Emphasizing that time is running out, he said the war is currently raging across more than 40 frontlines and the cost of basic food products has skyrocketed.

Describing the impact on food security as devastating, he said estimates in July predicted that acute food insecurity would rise sharply — from 25 per cent of the population to 40 per cent — by the end of 2020. The Council must not wait for a formal declaration of famine to act. He called on members to stop waiting for the crisis to reach a boiling point “and then doing just enough to pull back it from the brink”. A comprehensive, funded plan is needed to avert famine, stabilize the shattered economy, support longer‑term development and compel the parties to make peace. Outlining what is immediately needed from donors, he said $2.6 billion will be required in 2021 to restore rations to all beneficiaries and resume other activities, such as specialized nutrition support to children and nursing mothers. At a bare minimum, $1.9 billion is needed to avert famine.

Omer Badokhon, Founder and Executive Director, Solutions for Sustainable Society, said the right to development and a dignified life have regrettably become a luxury for the majority of Yemen’s people. In addition to the many conflict‑related challenges long faced by the population — and now the impacts of the pandemic — he said the country also faces severe environmental devastation. For example, coastal areas have seen many major weather events in recent years, including five cyclones, which resulted in death and destruction.

Citing recent reports by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies, he said experts believe that, should the war in Yemen finally end in 2022, development gains would be set back by 26 years — “an entire generation”. That number will rise to 40 years should the war continue until 2030. Against that backdrop, he emphasized that the Sustainable Development Goals can only be achieved in Yemen amid peace and an elevated standard of living. More sustainable agricultural development, more sustainable consumption and production patterns and a circular green economy — led by Yemen’s young people — are urgently needed.

“The environment has always been one of the victims of war,” he said, noting that Yemen is not alone in that regard. Appealing to all the country’s warring parties to stop exploiting the environment in the service of conflict, he noted that war is fertile ground for animal poachers. Many species in Yemen, including its indigenous gazelle, are now threatened with extinction. Other species of animals and plants find themselves at risk due to the harvesting of timber for cooking materials, which has accelerated amid rising commodity and fuel prices.

Among other innovations, he said his organization has introduced a new project which converts bovine waste into biogas for cooking. Turning to the environmental challenges posed by the Safer oil tanker moored in the Red Sea, he described the ship’s degrading condition and emphasized that the situation constitutes a “ticking time bomb” threatening livelihoods across neighbouring coastal areas. Calling on the Council to put its weight behind efforts to reach a political solution, he demanded that the warring parties stop exploiting the environment for political purposes, as in the case of the oil tanker. Urgent steps must also be taken to empty the ship in order to avert an environmental disaster, and to expand humanitarian interventions to include green technologies, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates echoed a sense of urgency expressed by briefers in calling for the signing of the Joint Declaration and for measures to avoid a famine. They also called for expeditious access for the repair team to the Safer oil tanker to avoid an environmental and economic catastrophe.

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