Special Envoy, Emergency Relief Coordinator, Heads of WHO, FAO Brief Members
Senior United Nations officials warned of an appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen, amid intensifying conflict, famine and a fully-fledged cholera outbreak, as they briefed the Security Council this morning.
Cholera was spreading rapidly and infecting children, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, warned, pointing out that there were now more than 300,000 suspected cases and over 1,700 deaths resulting from the outbreak.
Joining Mr. Ahmed in briefing the Council was Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO); and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
They described horrifying conditions faced by the Yemeni people and stressed that fresh funds were needed. Each briefer also highlighted the need to pay doctors, who had not received their salaries for months. Yemen was already the world’s largest food-insecure emergency, they said. Seven million people lived on the cusp of famine, and nearly 16 million had no access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. Nearly all the country’s health facilities had closed, and many doctors and nurses had fled. Supplies of medicine remained extremely limited. In addition to famine and a cholera outbreak, Yemenis also faced intensifying conflict.
“I am deeply concerned by the continued targeting of civilians,” Mr. Ahmed said. Emphasizing that security continued to be undermined by the activity of extremists, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, he reiterated: “As I have stated here many times, the longer the conflict lasts, the more the terrorist groups will expand and threaten Yemen’s future.”
The speed and scale of the cholera outbreak highlighted the consequences of a collapsed public sector system, he continued, calling on donors to contribute more. He appealed to the coalition forces and all parties to the Yemen conflict to support a resumption of flights specifically for the continued flow of humanitarian supplies and individuals requiring medical care.
Mr. O’Brien said the health system in Yemen had essentially collapsed. Spotlighting that the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan was only 33 per cent funded, he said that humanitarian partners were combating cholera with resources intended for food security. The cholera response required an additional $250 million, of which only $47 million had been received. Public servants must be paid immediately and health facilities must be reopened, he added, emphasizing that the United Nations and its partners could not replace State functions. Ending the conflict required the Council to lean more heavily and effectively on the parties as well as on those outside Yemen who were leading policy and action.
Mr. Ghebreyesus said that the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside its partners, was working with Yemeni authorities to reach people with treatment, safe water and adequate sanitation. While emergency activation centres had been deployed and critical life-saving supplies had been delivered, Yemen still faced an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses. Some had fled the country while others continued to come to work without receiving a salary in 10 months.
Mr. Da Silva painted a dark picture of Yemen’s food situation, underscoring that the country faced the world’s largest food crisis, with 17 million people — two thirds of the population — living in a state of severe food insecurity as of March 2017. That was an increase of 20 per cent from June 2016. Crop production in 2016 was down 40 per cent from pre-conflict levels and, due to expected poor rains, production in 2017 was likely to be lower still. Livestock faced a growing number of diseases that could threaten people as well. “Unless we take steps to address the conflict now, we will never truly overcome hunger in Yemen,” he warned.
In the ensuing discussion, Uruguay’s representative noted that the Council’s presidential statement of 15 June had been followed two days later by a deadly air strike on a market in a town near the border with Saudi Arabia. Those responsible for such barbaric acts, and their supporters, must stop. He added that it was in the Council’s competency to establish an investigative mechanism that would look into fundamental rights violations in Yemen.
Bolivia’s representative called on the Council to highlight the causes and situation that had led to the conflict in Yemen. “This is unfortunately a war that is being ignored,” he emphasized.
Sweden’s representative described as “horrifying” the rapid spread of cholera to all of Yemen’s governorates. He recalled that on 30 May, Mr. O’Brien had reported 55,000 suspected cases, adding that the number had surged to more than 300,000 by now. The increase was as much as 15,000-20,000 per day.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:12 a.m.
ISMAIL OULD CHEIKH AHMED, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, called the situation in the country “extremely grave”. The intensity of the conflict continued to increase day after day, he said, adding: “I am deeply concerned by the continued targeting of civilians.” Security continued to be undermined by the activity of extremist groups, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. “As I have stated here many times, the longer the conflict lasts, the more the terrorist groups will expand and threaten Yemen’s future,” he added. The humanitarian situation remained “appalling”. Some 14 million people were food insecure and 7 million were at risk of famine.
Cholera was spreading rapidly and infecting children, elderly people and other vulnerable groups, he continued. There were now more than 300,000 suspected cases and over 1,700 people had died as a result of the epidemic. Tens of thousands of health-care workers had not been paid for many months, more than half of the country’s health facilities had closed and supplies of medicine remained extremely limited. The speed and scale of Yemen’s cholera outbreak highlighted the consequences of a collapsed public sector system, he continued, commending Saudi Arabia for its donation to help stop the disease. He called on other donors to further contribute. Health-care workers must be paid as soon as possible.
Turning to the resumption of commercial flights from Sana’a, he said that the lack of commercial flights had placed an unnecessary burden on the population and had worsened an already desperate humanitarian situation. He appealed to the coalition forces and all parties to the conflict to support a resumption of flights specifically for individuals requiring medical care. Some proposed agreements focused on ports and ensuring the continued flow of humanitarian supplies and commercial goods. They also focused on implementing a programme for collecting taxes and other revenues so the latter could be used to support salaries and services, “instead of supporting war”. Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi had agreed on the need to ensure deliveries and prevent arms smuggling and the diversion of taxes.
Noting that he had recently met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, he welcomed commitment by that country’s leadership to support agreements between parties on the matter of delivering goods. He said that he would travel tomorrow to Cairo to continue his work and possibly meet with the Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress (GPC) to discuss agreements on the Port of Hodeidah and salaries as a preliminary step to a national cessation of hostilities. “It is essential that Ansar Allah and the GPC engage with me constructively and in good faith on these proposals if they truly want an end to the war,” he added. Underscoring the importance of regional and international unity in securing peace in Yemen, he also commended the courageous efforts of Yemeni civil society and activists. “I wish the political leaders would mirror these activists’ love of their nation and its people.”
STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said millions of Yemeni women, children and men remained exposed to unfathomable pain and suffering. Seven million lived on the cusp of famine. Nearly 16 million had no access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. More than 320,000 cholera cases had been reported and at least 1,740 people had died of that disease. The health system had essentially collapsed. With the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan only 33 per cent funded, humanitarian partners were combating cholera with resources intended for food security. Fresh funds were needed, he said, emphasizing that the cholera response required an additional $250 million, of which $47 million had been received.
He emphasized the need for public servants to be paid immediately and health facilities to be reopened, stating that the United Nations and its partners could not replace State functions. All parties must comply with their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law, and ports and land routes must be kept open in a predictable and stable manner for humanitarian and commercial imports. He said the Council had a primary responsibility to ensure that the parties upheld their obligations under international humanitarian law, as well as a responsibility to maintain international peace and security “which is patently failing in Yemen”. Ending the conflict would require the Council to lean more heavily and effectively on the parties as well as on those outside Yemen who were leading policy and action. Failure to restore stability would render the Council’s ability to intervene useless and hopeless.
TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO), speaking via videoconference from Geneva, said the cholera outbreak had continued to devastate Yemen, having already killed more than 1,700 people. “We are witnessing the second wave of an outbreak,” he added, expressing concern that the disease had now reached 21 of the 23 governorates. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO were working with Yemeni authorities to reach people with treatment, safe water and adequate sanitation. Emergency activation centres had been deployed and critical life-saving supplies had been delivered. However, there was an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses to treat patients. Some had fled the country while others continued to come to work even though they had not been paid in 10 months. Additionally, the supply chain was hampered by restrictions, checkpoints and a shortage of funds. It was crucial to accelerate the political process to bring an immediate end to the conflict, he continued. Civilian infrastructure must always be protected in accordance with international law. Meanwhile, donors must remain committed to their pledges. Humanitarian workers and doctors and nurses must be paid, he stressed. While WHO was doing its utmost to reach civilians in need, there would be no end to suffering without achieving peace, he concluded.
JOSÉ GRAZIANO DA SILVA, Director-General, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), speaking via videoconference from Geneva, said Yemen faced the world’s largest food crisis, with 17 million people — two thirds of the population — living in a state of severe food insecurity as of March 2017. That was an increase of 20 per cent from June 2016. Seven million of those people were living one step from living in a state of famine if they did not get immediate assistance. In food production areas, the conflict was making the movement of food to local markets difficult, leading to scarcity and rising prices. Crop production in 2016 was down 40 per cent from pre-conflict levels and, due to expected poor rains, production in 2017 was likely to be lower still.
The agency was particularly worried by a collapse in veterinary services, he said, with livestock facing a growing number of diseases — including foot-and-mouth disease — that could threaten people as well. “Unless we take steps to address the conflict now, we will never truly overcome hunger in Yemen,” he said. Funds were limited, but access was among the main factors constraining efforts to save lives and avert famine. With 70 per cent of the population living in the countryside, prospects for a better future would not materialize unless their capacity to produce food was addressed, he added.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) noted that the Council’s presidential statement of 15 June was followed two days later by an air strike on a market in a town near the border with Saudi Arabia in which 22 people, including six children, were killed. Those responsible for barbaric acts, and their supporters, must stop. He added that it was in the Council’s competency to establish an investigative mechanism that would look into fundamental rights violations in Yemen. Uruguay also looked forward to the next annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, which should include a full list of those responsible for serious rights violations in Yemen.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that the conflict in Yemen was aggravated by a lack of access to water and health care. To add to the suffering, there were 7 million Yeminis at risk of famine and humanitarian assistance continued to be hampered. He called on all sides to the conflict to comply with relevant United Nations resolutions and statements and engage in sustained dialogue aimed at producing an inclusive, orderly political process led by the Yemeni people. In the same vein, it was important for the Council to highlight the causes and the situation that led to the conflict in Yemen. “This is unfortunately a war that is being ignored,” he continued, adding that “it is not a part of the day-to-day environment outside this Chamber.” That was a clear indication of the limitations of the 15-member body’s work. He hoped that in a few weeks the Council would not sit down again to hear that the conflict had worsened.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) called the rapid spread of cholera to all of Yemen’s governorates “horrifying”. When Mr. O’Brien spoke on 30 May, he had reported 55,000 suspected cases, which by now had surged to more than 300,000 cases. The increase was as much as 15,000-20,000 per day with over 1,700 associated deaths in just 75 days. Yemen was also on the brink of famine. It was already the largest food insecurity emergency in the world with more than 17 million people food insecure and around 6.8 million Yeminis living just one step from famine. Such acute humanitarian needs explained why it was critical to immediately mobilize funds. He urged all donors to deliver on their commitments. In addition to the funding, there was a critical need for greater humanitarian access. All parties must allow for safe, rapid, unhindered, and sustained humanitarian access to facilitate access for essential food, fuel and medical supplies. It was also critical to keep all of the country’s ports functioning, including the Port of Hodeidah, as a critical lifeline for the humanitarian response.
KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen) said his country faced serious and complicated health and humanitarian conditions, almost two-and-a-half years after a bloody coup by Houthi militia with the support of Iran. Peace in Yemen, based on the Gulf Initiative, the National Dialogue Conference and relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2216 (2015), was more urgent today than ever. The Government was ready to make all necessary concessions for peace, he said, adding that it supported the Special Envoy’s efforts and proposals. Although the Houthi militia had turned a blind eye to all peace options, the Government would continue to extend its hand and hope for a solution that would pave the way for peace while not rewarding coup masters, terrorists and gangs for violating the sovereignty of the State.
He expressed deep gratitude to United Nations staff members in Yemen, and looked forward to a visit by the Executive Directors of the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF. However, the work of the Resident Coordinator had been unprofessional, biased and politicized, he said. He went on to say that growth in the number of children being recruited by Houthi militia had been met with deafening silence by the international community. Turning to the humanitarian situation and cholera outbreak, he said the Government attached great importance to mobilizing international and Arab support and called on the international community to give the issue greater attention. Concluding, he said the solution in Yemen lied in national political conciliation and addressing the reasons behind the coup. That could not happen without pressure on Houthi militia to go to the negotiating table. In that regard, the Council needed to take a firm stance against the coup masters and to pressure them to comply with its resolutions and with international humanitarian law.