Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks to the high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in Geneva today:
It is my pleasure to co-chair this conference and to welcome you all today to Geneva. And if you allow me, I will begin with my own brief opening statements. I thank my co-chairs for hosting this pledging conference, and thank all of you for your solidarity with Yemen’s children, women and men.
Yemen today is experiencing a tragedy of immense proportions. Two years of conflict have devastated the lives of ordinary Yemenis. I myself, as High Commissioner for Refugees, have worked with Yemen for many years, and I was always extremely impressed by the generosity of the Yemeni people. At the time, Yemen, already with enormous difficulties, was granting prima facie refugee status to all Somalia refugees coming to Yemen.
In a world where so many borders are closed, to see the generosity of Yemeni people was something that I always felt very strongly as a remarkable demonstration of solidarity. And it is the reason why I feel personally very moved when I see these generous people suffering so much and I feel so compelled to ask all of you for your solidarity and your generosity to such a wonderful people.
The need for humanitarian aid and the protection of civilians has never been greater. Our humanitarian appeal for 2017 is $2.1 billion and only 15 per cent has been met until the present moment.
Nearly two thirds of the population — or almost 19 million people — need emergency support. Some 17 million are food-insecure, making this the world’s largest hunger crisis. And 7 out of 22 governorates are facing a severe food security emergency.
As always, children are at the highest risk of death. On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes. And this means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference — and all those deaths could have been prevented. Many of the children who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for their entire lives.
We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now, to save lives. Yemen was pitifully poor even before the current conflict. The war has affected every aspect of life, bringing people to the breaking point. Their savings have run out; they have no assets to sell; they have exhausted their coping mechanisms.
Import restrictions and the destruction of port facilities have badly affected supplies of basic goods. Ongoing fighting could reduce imports of essential food, fuel and medicines even further. War has devastated the economy, destroyed health services, and forced 3 million people from their homes — leaving many being unable to earn a living or grow crops. Basic services have collapsed, placing millions at risk of disease and other threats.
Nearly 300 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by shooting, shelling or air strikes. Maternal mortality is the highest in the region, and more than a million pregnant women are malnourished.
An estimated 2 million children are out of school, leaving them exposed to recruitment or radicalization by armed groups. Girls as young as 13 are married off as desperate families seek dowry money to meet essential needs. And this man-made crisis has robbed millions of people of their lives, their hope and their dignity.
We are here today to turn the tide of suffering, and to create hope. The international community has the power and the means to end this crisis. A famine can be prevented if we act quickly and commit to funding crucial life-saving assistance, and if all parties fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law.
United Nations agencies and over 100 humanitarian partners are already providing life-saving support across the country. They have reached some 5.8 million people this year. And they stand ready to increase their programmes. But, the lack of resources is forcing humanitarian workers to make impossible choices between the most vulnerable.
Funding alone will not reverse the fortunes of millions of people in Yemen. Only a cessation of hostilities and a political settlement can bring about a permanent end to the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people. And I call on the parties to the conflict to engage in peace talks facilitated by my Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. And I urge all to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid by air, sea and land. All infrastructure must remain open and operational.
Today’s conference must represent a moment of truth, when the international community takes decisive steps to significantly increase its support to Yemenis who have lost so much. I urge you to convert your participation here today into action to support the Yemeni people. Thank you.