Amid Humanitarian Funding Gap, 20 Million People across Africa, Yemen at Risk of Starvation, Emergency Relief Chief Warns Security Council

SC/12748
10 March 2017
7897th Meeting (AM)

Amid Humanitarian Funding Gap, 20 Million People across Africa, Yemen at Risk of Starvation, Emergency Relief Chief Warns Security Council

Twenty million people across four countries faced starvation and famine if the international community did not act quickly, the United Nations humanitarian chief warned the Security Council today, expressing alarm at the funding gap to meet the needs in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north-eastern Nigeria.

Briefing the Council on his recent trips to all four countries, Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien recalled harrowing stories he heard from women and children fleeing fighting through waist-high swamps and rummaging the streets for something to eat.

“Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death,” he warned, stressing that the situation had deteriorated in all four countries amid environments of increased fighting, displacements, drought and attacks on schools and medical facilities.  Attacks on humanitarians had also significantly hindered the delivery of much-needed supplies.

The situation in Yemen, which constituted the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, was particularly grim, he continued.  Two thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — needed assistance and more than 7 million did not know where their next meal would come from.  The country depended heavily on imports, but hostilities had damaged and destroyed infrastructure.  Closure of the capital’s airport only worsened the situation.  With $2.1 billion needed to reach 12 million people with life-saving aid, he voiced serious concern that only 6 per cent of that had been received thus far and urged Member States and donors to meet the target. 

In South Sudan, more than 7.5 million people needed aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, he continued.  Continued fighting had displaced some 3.4 million people and more than 1 million children were estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country.  That included 270,000 children who faced the imminent risk of death if they were not reached in time.

In Somalia, more than half of the population — 6.2 million people — required humanitarian and protection assistance, he said.  Some 2.9 million people were at risk of famine.  In the last two months alone, nearly 160,000 people had been displaced due to severe drought conditions, adding to the already 1.1 million people who lived in appalling conditions around the country.  Large parts of southern and central Somalia remained under the control or influence of Al-Shabaab.  The security situation remained volatile.

Humanitarian partners had also scaled up their response to reach the most vulnerable in the Lake Chad region, particularly in north-east Nigeria.   While donors had pledged millions, $1.5 billion was needed to provide aid across the Lake Chad region.  “The warning call could not be understated,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Every life on the edge of famine and death was equally worth saving.”

In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed serious concern over the deep insecurity faced by millions with the delegate from the United States saying that every member of the Security Council should be outraged that the world was confronting famine in the year 2017.   She said that famine was a man-made problem with a man-made solution.  In South Sudan, for example, responsibility lay squarely with the country’s leaders who continued to fight a senseless conflict while 5.5 million people faced severe hunger.

Members reiterated that the only solution to crises in those countries was a political one, and urged all parties to stop fighting and return to peace talks.  The representative of Egypt, voicing concern about the current drought and famine threatening Somalia, pointed out that the “common denominator” in each of the countries was ongoing political crises.  In regards to Somalia, regional efforts to combat that crisis would help ensure the delivery of aid.

Several speakers urged the need to address the funding gap to meet the humanitarian needs, with the representative of the United Kingdom urging Member States to “match our messages with our money”.   More than 20 million people — nearly the entire population of Australia — risked starving to death in the coming months.

The representative of Senegal said that the looming famine in the Lake Chad Basin sub-region, as well as Somalia, could be averted if international partners acted quickly to end the proliferation of terrorist groups.  Ukraine’s delegate echoed that sentiment, expressing concern over the sophistication of attacks carried out by Houthi-Saleh forces.  Blocking weapons shipments to the forces in Yemen was essential to prevent further escalation of the conflict, he added. 

Sweden’s representative deemed attacks on aid workers “totally unacceptable” and urged all parties from South Sudan to Yemen to allow humanitarians unimpeded access to civilians.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Russian Federation, France, Uruguay, Japan, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Italy, China and Ethiopia.

The meeting begain at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:32 p.m.

Briefing

STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council on his visits to countries facing famine or at risk of famine namely, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia.  Having also visited north Kenya, where pastoralists were affected by the terrible drought, he said that over 2.7 million Kenyans were now food insecure, a number likely to reach 4 million by April.  The United Nations would launch an appeal of $200 million to provide timely life-saving assistance.

Moving on to Yemen, he said that it remained the largest humanitarian crisis in the world and warned that the Yemeni people now faced the spectre of famine. Some two thirds of the population or 18.8 million people were in need of assistance and more than 7 million were hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from.  The number of hungry was now 3 million more than in January.  Displacement continued to increase.  Health facilities were being destroyed and damaged and disease was sweeping throughout the country.

He recalled meeting with people in Aden, Ibb, Sana’a and from Taizz.  “My small team met a girl displaced to Ibb, still having shrapnel wounds in her legs while her brother was deeply traumatized,” he told Council members.  In Aden, he met with Yemen’s President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.  In Sana’a, he met with senior leadership of the Houthi and General People’s Congress authorities.  He discussed with them the need to prevent a famine and urged them to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.  While all parties promised to facilitate sustained access and respect international humanitarian law, they continued to arbitrarily deny access and to politicize aid.  Despite the almost impossible conditions, United Nations relief staff continued to step up to meet the humanitarian needs across the country.  “We will not leave a stone unturned to find alternative routes,” he said.  “We must prevail as so many lives depend on us.”

For 2017, the humanitarian community required $2.1 billion to reach 12 million people with life-saving aid, he continued, expressing concern that only 6 per cent of that had been received thus far.  Only a political solution would ultimately end human suffering.  At the current stage, only a combined response with the private sector could stem a famine.  “With access and funding, humanitarians will do more, but we are not the long-term solution to this growing crisis,” he said.  A pledging event for the humanitarian response in Yemen for 2017 would take place in Geneva on 25 April, he confirmed.

On South Sudan, he said that more than 7.5 million people needed aid, up by 1.4 million from last year.  Around 3.4 million people were displaced.  More than 1 million children were estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country; including 270,000 children who faced the imminent risk of death if they were not reached in time.  Having travelled to South Sudan, Mr. O’Brien recalled meeting with women who fled fighting with their children through waist-high swamps to receive food and medicine.  Some of those women had experienced the most appalling acts of sexual violence.  Active hostilities continued to curtail humanitarian efforts.  Aid workers had been killed and their compounds attacked.

In Somalia, more than half of the population — 6.2 million people — required humanitarian and protection assistance, including 2.9 million people at risk of famine, he said.  In the last two months alone, nearly 160,000 people had been displaced due to severe drought conditions, adding to the already 1.1 million people who lived in appalling conditions around the country.  Large parts of southern and central Somalia remained under the control or influence of Al-Shabaab and the security situation remained volatile.  The Government had recently declared the drought a national disaster and was taking steps to work with humanitarian partners to coordinate a response.  “To be clear, we can avert a famine,” he said.

For all three countries and north-east Nigeria, $4.4 billion by July was critical, he said.  Humanitarian partners had also scaled up their response to reach the most vulnerable in the Lake Chad region, particularly in north-east Nigeria.  While donors had pledged millions, more was needed to receive the $1.5 billion required to provide the assistance needed across the Lake Chad region.  More than 20 million people across four countries faced starvation and famine and without collective global efforts, people would simply starve to death.  More would suffer and die from disease.  The warning call could not be understated.  It was not the time to ask for more detail.  Every life on the edge of famine and death was equally worth saving, he said

Statements

VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said that, in calling for today’s meeting, his delegation had been motivated by the need to receive first-hand information about what was taking place in Yemen.  That country was on the verge of famine, its civilian infrastructure lay in ruins and many businesses and other buildings had been destroyed.  Calling on all partners to set aside efforts to find a military solution to the conflict— which could only deepen mistrust between the parties — he said peace would only be achieved through political negotiations based on a balanced road map.  The Russian Federation continued to work with all sides of the conflict through its embassy, urging them to refrain from unilateral actions that would interfere with the negotiation process.  Across the region, terrorists and extremist groups were the only winners of the present conflicts, and the international community should already have learned that postponing efforts to combat such groups would only lead to more havoc, he said.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said United Nations efforts, as essential as they were, could never replace the primary responsibility of Governments to protect their populations.  In South Sudan, the recent declaration of famine reflected the chaos that had been raging for three years.  Both there and in Yemen, the United Nations and other humanitarian actors must be able to reach all people needing help, he said, noting that hindrances resulting from those countries’ respective conflicts were multiplying by the day.  Governments must also avoid imposing bureaucratic obstacles to aid delivery, as was particularly evident in South Sudan.  Calling on the Council to immediately and unanimously condemn such actions, he said the parties to Yemen’s conflict must immediately cease their attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, which might qualify as war crimes.  Given the scale of the financial assistance required by the four countries, he expressed support for a global approach to mobilize all goodwill, including from private and non-traditional donors.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) stressed that improving the humanitarian situations in each of the four countries being discussed today required political solutions to their respective conflicts.  To those ends, Member States in a position to do so should exert their influence on the conflict parties.   The unprecedented, indiscriminate recent attacks against hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructure must also end.

MICHELE SISON (United States) said that the United Nations was warning the Council that 20 million people were starving in Yemen, Somalia and the Lake Chad Basin.  Every member of the Security Council should be outraged that the world was confronting famine in the year 2017.  Famine was a man-made problem with a man-made solution.  Preventing famine meant that the parties fighting on the ground had to prioritize access to civilians.  They must allow unfettered access and not obstruct aid, she stressed.  The humanitarian appeal was just 6 per cent funded.  The stakes in Yemen were the highest.  Some 7.3 million people emergency food aid.  Yemen was overwhelmingly dependent on imports for its food supply.  It was critical to renew the cessation of hostilities and bring all parties back to the negotiating table.  However, while the conflict continued, all parties must allow unfettered food deliveries, she said, adding that the closure of Sana’a airport had worsened the situation.

In South Sudan, responsibility lay squarely on the country’s leaders who continued to fight a senseless conflict while 5.5 million people faced severe hunger, she continued.  Noting reports that the South Sudan Government was expelling humanitarian aid workers from food insecurity areas, she described how civilians were suffering in their search for the basic necessities.  In Somalia, following several poor rainy seasons, the country faced drought and famine.  Lack of funding was the primary obstacle in saving lives.  As the Council had recently seen on the ground, it was a daunting challenge to address food insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin as the region’s military resources were focused on combating Boko Haram.  To save people from starving to death, humanitarian workers must be able to deliver food and aid to millions.  “Starvation is preventable but only if we have the will to act,” she said.  

KORO BESSHO (Japan) expressed concern over Yemen’s persisting food insecurity and malnutrition.  Ongoing fighting continued to decrease the volume of commercial imports to Yemen, which had already struggled with food production.  The fighting deepened the economic crisis, delayed the payment of salaries, and made it difficult for ordinary people to buy basic necessities.  The fighting also prevented the United Nations and other humanitarian actors from delivering assistance.  Expressing concern over reports that Hodeidah would become the next battlefield after Mocha, he warned that, if the Hodeidah Port was severely damaged, economic and food insecurity would worsen.  He urged all parties to listen to the voices of the Yemeni people in seeking a ceasefire. 

Almost a year had passed since the United Nations envoy to Yemen announced a nation-wide cessation of hostilities, he said, expressing frustration at the slow progress in the political process and the worsening fighting.  The Council should consider delivering a strong unified message to the parties, supporting the mediation efforts and urging all sides to cease hostilities and allow unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access.  On South Sudan, he said Japan had pledged some $22.4 million to United Nations humanitarian efforts.  He urged President Kiir to honour his commitment to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access.  Regarding Somalia, he warned that progress in the Somali state-formation process could be jeopardized.  Japan had also pledged funds to humanitarian efforts there.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said emergency funding had to be scaled up so that the United Nations system and its partners could deliver life-saving aid to people in need.  Humanitarian access remained critical, he added, calling on all parties to meet their obligations under humanitarian law.  Only political solutions could guarantee peace.  The situation in Yemen was shocking.  “We cannot look the other way,” he stressed.  There was an urgent need to resupply the shrinking stock of food and medicine.  Immediate action was needed to prevent famine and yet the humanitarian proposed plan was only six percent funding.  He invited all partners to attend the pledging conference in April.  It was important to keep in mind that while humanitarian aid was critical, a political solution was the only viable option to solving conflict.  On South Sudan, he said it was “totally unacceptable” that aid workers continued to be targeted and urged all parties to allow aid workers to have unimpeded access to civilians.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan), urging prompt action to assist civilians in need in Yemen, advocated for the resumption of commercial air service to Sana'a in order to help deliver food, medicine and other aid.  Calling for a cessation of hostilities in that country, as well as negotiations towards a political solution, he also urged Member States to help Somalia recover from its drought, stressing that famine must be avoided at all costs.  It was crucial to help Somalia strengthen its security sector through well-planned reform, thereby allowing it to effectively counter terrorist activity.  He also expressed concern about the situation in South Sudan, commending Under-Secretary-General O’Brien for being vocal with the authorities in Juba.  The humanitarian crisis in that country was a direct result of hampered aid delivery, which was in turn a result of the conflict.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) joined other delegations in voicing alarm over the situations in South Sudan and Somalia, and stressed that, in Yemen, where the Council had been suspiciously silent, the only lasting solution would be a political one.  Every 10 minutes, a Yemeni child died due to lack of food, while the country’s overall death toll had recently reached 10,000.  Recalling that the Resident Coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, had described attacks on roads and bridges, as well as restrictions on ports, that were aimed at reducing imports and aid delivery, he said such activities were an affront to international humanitarian law.  The Council should send a “clear, unequivocal and unanimous” message to the effect that restrictions on Yemeni ports must be lifted immediately.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), voicing concern about the situation in Yemen, expressed regret that the Houthis continued to restrict humanitarian access to some of the country’s cities.  Proposing that the United Nations begin studying the idea of deploying observers to end such access restrictions, which included procrastinating and stalling the delivery of imports, he went on to say that the suffering of South Sudan’s population had also reached an unprecedented level.  There was an urgent need to facilitate rapid and unhindered United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) access to affected areas.  Voicing concern about the current drought and the famine threatening Somalia, and stressing the need to increase regional efforts to combat that crisis and ensure the delivery of aid, he agreed with other speakers and ongoing political crises were the “common denominator” in each of those countries.  Ending the suffering of their respective populations could only be achieved through political solutions.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) expressed concern over the situation in Yemen and outlined ways his country had provided nutrition and education aid.  Assistance must reach those in need, he said, urging all parties to allow unimpeded humanitarian access to civilians.  A political solution was the only viable option for resolving the crisis in Yemen.  Somali refugees in Yemen were of great concern, he said, stressing that a collective effort, chiefly led by Ethiopia and Kenya, to host Somali refugees was vital.  He also expressed concern over the limitations on humanitarian access in South Sudan, condemning attacks on churches and other places of worship.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) urged all parties in Yemen to ensure the sustainable delivery of commercial and humanitarian supplies, without which millions of Yemenis were at risk of famine and death.  He expressed concern over the upsurge of rocket attacks by Houthi forces in Yemen against objects located in Saudi Arabia, as well as maritime vessels operating near Bab al-Mandeb.  The use by the Houthi-Saleh forces of an unmanned remote-control boat to attack a Saudi vessel in the Red Sea testified to the increased sophistication of Houthi-Saleh attacks.  Ensuring the safety of the Bab al-Mandeb shipping passage was of paramount importance for international peace.  Blocking weapons shipments to the Houthi-Saleh forces was essential to prevent further escalation of the conflict.

SHEN BO (China) called on the international community to extend a “helping hand” to the humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia.  He expressed concern over the escalating human suffering in Yemen, stressing that Yemenis needed external support.  It was important to stop attacks against civilian targets.  The international community must join efforts to improve the humanitarian response in Yemen.  China would continue to provide aid to Yemen, he added, urging all parties to reach a ceasefire, resume peace talks and find a political solution.

DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia), thanking Mr. O’Brien for the solidarity demonstrated by his visit to Somalia and the Somali region of Ethiopia, urged the international community to act decisively to avert catastrophe in Yemen.  Agreeing with other speakers on the need to address the huge funding gap to meet that country’s humanitarian needs, he expressed hope that the high-level donor conference to be held in April would help to close the gap.  In addition, a political resolution — requiring both a cessation of hostilities and the urgent resumption of peace talks — was needed to address the Yemeni crisis.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) joined other speakers in calling for urgent action to address the “sombre predictions” in each of the four countries being discussed.  On Yemen, he called on the parties — especially the Houthis and their allies — to adhere to their responsibilities under international law, including allowing for the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid.  Further urging the parties to resume good-faith negotiations in order to reach a political solution, he said international assistance was needed “now more than ever” in South Sudan.  Turning to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin subregion, as well as Somalia, he said the looming famine could be averted if international partners acted quickly to end the proliferation of terrorist groups.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that more than 20 million people — nearly the entire population of Australia — risked starving to death in the coming months.  Noting that the United Kingdom was the second-largest donor to South Sudan, he stressed that “we can’t do it alone” and urged Member States to “match our messages with our money”.  In Somalia, there was a crucial window to take action before the drought took hold, during which the international community could help avoid a recurrence of the tragic 2011 famine.  “Al-Shabaab is poised to step into the breach” if States did not step up to help, he warned, noting that Somalis would be forced to turn to the group in desperation.  In Yemen, all parties to the conflict must ensure the continued delivery of commercial imports, while partners should help stabilize the banking sector and resolve the liquidity crisis.  The United Kingdom had increased its assistance to Yemen to $125 million, but it would be difficult to effectively address the crisis while the conflict continued.  In that regard, he joined others in calling on the parties to work towards a ceasefire and an enduring political settlement.

For information media. Not an official record.