Emergency Relief Coordinator Tells of Ongoing Air Strikes amid ‘Staggering’ Needs
After nearly a year of fighting that had caused immeasurable suffering in Yemen, it was more urgent than ever to address the human catastrophe unfolding in that war-torn country, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council today, urging it to impress upon the warring parties the importance of facilitating unconditional humanitarian access and protecting civilians.
“I also reiterate the urgent request that this Council press the parties to resume peace talks and agree to a ceasefire,” added Mr. O’Brien, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. In an update on recent events, he said: “I am extremely concerned about the increasingly restricted humanitarian space we face to respond to the staggering needs.”
Indeed, the conflict was exacting a terrible humanitarian toll, he said, noting that 2.7 million people had fled their homes and at least 7.6 million were severely food insecure. Chronic drug shortages, unpaid salaries and conflict-related destruction meant that 14 million Yemenis lacked sufficient access to health care. Since March 2015, nearly 600 health facilities had closed, 220 of which had formerly offered treatment for acute malnutrition. Also since that time, more than 1.8 million children had been out of school, bringing the total to more than 3.4 million when combined with pre-crisis figures, he said.
United Nations agencies and their partners were delivering aid under “extraordinarily difficult and dangerous” circumstances, he continued, pointing out that an air strike by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had landed 200 metres from a transit facility accommodating United Nations personnel. In January, the humanitarian community had provided monthly food rations to some 2.6 million people, water to 234,000 people and fuel to facilities pumping water for more than 3 million people.
However, the Houthis and allied groups had been inconsistent in allowing humanitarian access and movement, he said, adding that United Nations agencies had been denied access for joint missions to Ibb, Taizz and Sa’ada. Meanwhile, the presence of Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula meant that making deliveries to Hadramaut Governorate and Aden was quite dangerous. Aid had reached the Taizz city enclave, but the area — which was home to 200,000 people — faced severe access restrictions imposed by the Houthis, he said, adding that deliveries had included food for some 18,000 people and non-food items for 1,250 families.
He went on to state that access to northern governorates, where needs were among the most severe, was also difficult due to air strikes on communities along the border with Saudi Arabia. Recalling that more than 276,000 people had been provided with food in Sa’ada Governorate in the past month, he noted, however, that the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator had been denied entry into Saudi Arabia on 17 January. On 11 February, coalition forces had diverted to the Saudi port of Jizan a World Food Programme (WFP) aid vessel destined for United Nations offices in Aden. Those events had caused recent delays delivering assistance, he added.
With that in mind, he underlined that parties to the conflict had a duty to protect civilians — including humanitarian and health-care workers — against attack. Humanitarian efforts must be complemented by other steps to revive the economy and the flow of commercial goods in order to ensure that inspections carried out in line with resolution 2216 (2015) did not adversely impact the shipping of basic items into the country.
On a positive note, he reported that the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism had been formally launched and would help boost commercial imports into Yemeni ports outside Government control. The Secretary-General had requested the Government and the coalition to appoint representatives to the Steering Committee by 22 February. That body would operate out of Djibouti for an initial six months, before moving to Aden and/or Sana’a when the security situation permitted. The Mechanism’s monitors would be based in Dubai, Jeddah and Salalah, where they would work with the relevant authorities.
He concluded by noting that in two days, the 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan would be launched in Geneva to request $1.8 billion for critical needs: food for nearly 9 million people; water and sanitation support for 7.4 million; urgent health support for 10.6 million; and emergency interventions to staunch severe malnutrition.
At the outset of the meeting, the Council observed a moment of silence to honour the death of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 10:23 a.m.