If the international community did not take immediate measures to end the fighting in Yemen, the top United Nations humanitarian official in the region cautioned the Security Council today, there would be nothing left to fight for.
“I have seen the anguish of the Yemeni people with my own eyes,” Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a briefing to the 15-member body, before going on to describe men, women, and children unsure where their next meal would come from, multi-kilometre-long queues for fuel, a hospital without examination gloves or medicines, and homes destroyed by air strikes.
On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, he added, it was also a matter of regret to remember that five aid workers had been killed in Yemen this year, bringing the total to 17 in the last 10 years. The scale of human suffering in Yemen was “almost incomprehensible”, with a “shocking” four out of five Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance and nearly 1.5 million people internally displaced.
Impediments to commercial imports, he went on, had resulted in widespread scarcity of food and fuel. Airports and seaports needed to remain open and be used for both commercial and humanitarian supplies without restrictions. Reports of air strikes and other shelling in and around Hudayah port earlier in the week had damaged the main lifelines for the import of basic goods such as food and medicines. All parties to the conflict must respect and implement international humanitarian law.
The Governor of Aden, he said, had informed him that some people were slowly returning to their homes and basic services were being restored, but not in the vast swathes of the city where unexploded ordnances littered the streets and buildings. Electricity was intermittent.
Reflecting on the courage of Yemeni and international humanitarian workers, he said it was necessary to position more international staff across the country, outside of Sana’a and Hudayah. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs aimed to establish operational hubs in Aden, Ibb, Sa’ada and Mukalla as soon as the security situation permitted.
The World Food Programme (WFP), he noted, had warned that the shortage of funding and a lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently needed food assistance could create the possibility of famine for millions in Yemen. To date, only 18 per cent of the $1.6 billion requested through the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan had been delivered. The $247 million pledged by Saudi Arabia in April had not been received. And even with those resources, the plan would only be funded at 33 per cent. “Substantial” funding was needed.
“We, the international community, must match our actions with our words,” he stressed, calling on the Council to ensure that the parties in the conflict stopped fighting and returned to the negotiating table before it was too late.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 3:15 p.m.