At Security Council, UN relief chief spotlights need to end ‘human catastrophe’ in Yemen

Water being trucked into a displacement camp where about 200 families, displaced from Sa’ada, Yemen, live. Photo: OCHA/Philippe Kropf

16 February 2016 – With a human catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, the Security Council and the international community must urge the parties to the conflict to ensure unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to all parts of the country, and take greater measures to protect civilians, the top United Nations emergency relief official said today.

In a briefing to the 15-nation Council, Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted the extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances across the country to deliver assistance to millions of people in need.

Just this past Sunday, he noted, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a building 200 metres away from a facility that accommodates UN and diplomatic personnel, he said.

“The parties to the conflict have a duty of care in the conduct of military operations to protect all civilian persons and objects, including humanitarian and health care workers and facilities, against attack,” Mr. O’Brien said, reminding all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to facilitate humanitarian access to all areas of Yemen.

He said more than 1.8 million children have been out of school since mid-March 2015, bringing the total number to more than 3.4 million, when combined with pre-crisis figures. Over 1,170 schools are now unfit for use due to conflict-related damage, presence of displaced people, or occupation by armed groups. Water infrastructure serving at least 900,000 people has been either damaged or destroyed by airstrikes, artillery and rockets.

Recent communication received from Saudi Arabia regarding the safety of humanitarian workers in al-Houthi-controlled areas has impacted the humanitarian community’s planning, causing delays to important missions over the past two weeks, he noted. This followed the denial of entry to Saudi Arabia on 17 January of the regional humanitarian coordinator.

On 11 February, a vessel chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP) , traveling from Djibouti with a scheduled and approved stop in the Yemen port of Hodeidah, was diverted by coalition forces to the Saudi port of Jizan, he said.

Humanitarian assistance reached the Taiz city enclave following a high level mission led by the humanitarian coordinator on 22 January, he said. The area faces severe access restrictions by al-Houthis, and is home to over 200,000 people. Deliveries included food for around 18,000 people, non-food items for approximately 1,250 families; and medical supplies – including 170 oxygen cylinders and 30,000 units of dialysis sessions.

Over the weekend, additional assistance has reached the enclave, including food for a further 18,000 people, cancer treatment drugs, surgical items, intravenous fluids and anaesthetic supplies, as well as HIV antiretroviral treatments. Efforts are ongoing to establish a monitoring mechanism that will enable predictable access, as opposed to ad hoc ‘one-time’ deliveries, said Mr. O’Brien.

Imports of Food and Fuel

Humanitarian assistance must be complemented by efforts to revive the economy and flow of much-needed commercial goods, which has been severely impeded by the ongoing conflict, Mr. O’Brien said. Given the heavy dependence of Yemen on imported food and fuel, it will be critical to ensure inspections under Security Council resolution 2216 do not adversely impact the flow of commercial shipping into Yemen of basic items that civilians rely on to survive, he said.

To that end, the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) has now been formally launched, he said, add that the Secretary-General has formally requested the Yemeni authorities and the Saudi-led coalition to appoint representatives to sit on its Steering Committee by 22 February. The mechanism will operate for an initial six months out of Djibouti, and will move to Aden and/or Sana’a when the security situation permits. UNVIM monitors will also be based in Dubai, Jeddah and Salalah to work with the relevant authorities, he said.

Humanitarian Appeal

In two days’ time, the 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan will be launched in Geneva, asking for $1.8 billion to address the most critical and prioritized needs across all governorates in the country, including food assistance for nearly nine million people; water and sanitation support for 7.4 million people; urgent health support for 10.6 million people; and emergency interventions to mitigate growing and severe malnutrition rates, he said.

“Nearly one year into the conflict, it is now more important than ever that we address the human catastrophe unfolding in Yemen,” said Mr. O’Brien, underscoring the urgent need for the Security Council and the international community to impress upon the parties to the conflict their obligations to facilitate unconditional and sustained access to all parts of Yemen, and to take greater measures to protect civilians.

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UN agency delivers added food supplies to besieged area inside Yemen's Taiz city

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