Cautious Optimism Tempers Deputy Emergency Coordinator’s Bleak Humanitarian View as Permanent Representative Cites Iran for Meddling
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen asked the Security Council today for its support in the weeks and months ahead as parties to the conflict in that country prepared to embark on a fresh round of face-to-face negotiations, building on the cessation of hostilities that began on 10 April.
Briefing the Council on developments in Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the aim of the talks — to begin in Kuwait on 18 April — was to reach a comprehensive agreement on ending the conflict and to allow the resumption of an inclusive political dialogue, in accordance with resolution 2216 (2015) and other relevant Council resolutions.
“We have never been as close as we are today to peace,” he said, requesting the Council’s support, both before and after the talks, to ensure an end to the violence, a comprehensive ceasefire and a return to a peaceful and inclusive political process. “The success of the upcoming talks will require consistent and coherent support from the region, as well as the larger international community,” he added, warning of a security and humanitarian crisis if they failed.
Noting that he would be leaving for Kuwait within hours, the Special Envoy said he had received, on 9 April, written confirmation from the Government of Yemen, Ansar Allah — a political movement associated with the country’s Houthi movement — and the General Popular Congress of their commitment to a nationwide cessation of hostilities. Since then, there had been a discernible decrease in the level of military violence across most of Yemen, notwithstanding reports of serious violations in Al-Jawf, Amran, Mareb and Taiz. Local committees in contested areas had been nominated by the Government and Ansar Allah to work with the De-escalation and Coordination Committee and to ensure better compliance, he said, adding that efforts were afoot to increase their effectiveness in the coming days.
Despite the cessation of hostilities, however, a rapidly deteriorating economy was undermining the humanitarian situation amid continuing terrorist attacks, he cautioned. The State’s absence from many parts of the country had allowed terrorist groups to expand, creating a long-term threat. While the cessation of hostilities would help prevent radicalization and extremist violence, much more must be done to avert irreparable damage to Yemen future, he emphasized.
Kyung-Wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the ceasefire was a long-awaited respite at a time of appalling suffering and trauma. Detailing the full scale of the devastation, she said more than 6,400 people had been killed and over 30,500 injured. An estimated 2.8 million people had been forced from their homes.
She went on to state that health services had declined across the country due to a lack of supplies, medicines, electricity, fuel for generators, staff and equipment. Six children were being killed or injured in hostilities each day, and more than half a million pregnant women lacked access to the health care that would enable them to give birth safely, she said, adding that gender-based violence was on the rise.
Despite the bleak picture, however, there was cause for cautious optimism, she said. The cessation of hostilities had brought calm to many areas and aid organizations had already begun to respond in previously inaccessible places. In Sa’ada, Kitaf District, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had begun to rehabilitate a water facility serving some 10,000 people that had been damaged by air strikes. About 100 schools were set to re-open, and three mobile health and nutrition centres had been deployed to Taiz City, one of the most severely damaged areas.
She went on to state that United Nations agencies and their partners continued to ramp up ongoing relief efforts across the country. A nationwide polio vaccination campaign targeting 5 million children had been launched with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank. The World Food Programme (WFP) was distributing food assistance to an estimated 3.5 million people, she said, adding that millions of innocent civilians were being reached and lives saved.
“But this is hardly enough,” she emphasized. “The cessation of hostilities must be made to hold” because it served as a “crucial window of action” for both parties to the conflict to consider peace, and civilians caught in its grasp to receive much-needed aid. Various bureaucratic impediments and underfunding continued to hamper vital operations, and missions were frequently cancelled due to lack of clearance. Talks to start a nationwide emergency food security assessment had been blocked for seven months, while supplies of critical aid like armoured vehicles and helmets sat in ports or warehouses awaiting clearance, she said, noting that, to date, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan had received just 16 per cent of the $1.8 billion it needed.
She went on to state that commercial imports had dropped in the past two months owing to delays in the coalition clearance process, particularly for vessels trying to reach Al Hudaydah port. In February alone, only 15 per cent of the monthly fuel requirement had been delivered, while food imports had fallen by one quarter, fuelling a rise in prices and civilian hardship. There was urgent need for the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism — the Steering Committee of which had met for the first time on 11 April, and would meet again on 18 April — to begin operating as a single entity for the clearance of commercial vessels into Yemen. The country’s representative to the Committee had just affirmed the Government’s agreement to establish an office for the Mechanism in Djibouti, she said.
Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (Yemen) said his Government had extended an olive branch to the rebels and was working constructively to support United Nations efforts for lasting peace. Yet, just five days after the cessation-of-hostilities agreement had taken effect, Houthi rebels had launched attacks against civilians in the south-western city of Taiz. The Government was waiting for the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to act in good faith, embrace peace and come to the negotiating table, he said, stressing that society must be built upon the rule of law.
He called upon the Council to reject Iran’s interference in Yemen’s affairs by sending weapons to the rebels, saying such meddling quite clearly encouraged violence. There was a clear link between the Houthi militia and pro-Saleh forces, he said, pointing out that both recruited and used children for terrorist attacks. Ignoring such actions would enable the “death militias” to spread violence, he warned.
The meeting began at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 3:42 p.m.