United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Director Says Seven Years of War Leaving Physical, Emotional Scars on Young People Throughout Lifetimes
The crisis in Yemen is worsening on all levels, especially for children, United Nations experts warned the Security Council today, as delegates called on parties to uphold an urgent ceasefire and guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access to stave off famine.
“War overshadows everything,” said Martin Griffiths, briefing the Council for the first time in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The offensive in Ma’rib Province and clashes along nearly 50 other front lines have reportedly killed or injured more than 1,200 civilians, with collapsing public services depriving people of clean water, sanitation, education and health care, and cholera and COVID-19 spreading under those conditions.
With 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, he said a decimated economy is pushing the country to the brink. He stressed that 5 million people are one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it, and 10 million more are right behind them. “Famine is not just a food problem, it’s a symptom of a much deeper collapse,” he warned, as people are starving not because there is no food, but because they cannot afford it.
He said incomes are disappearing, especially salaries for civil servants, who represent a quarter of the population. Paying them would “put money in people’s pockets” and keep services running. The collapsed Yemeni currency is especially disastrous for a country so dependent on imports, he said, emphasizing that a ceasefire will give desperate civilians a break and create the space needed to address the drivers of the crisis.
Echoing that call, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said 2.6 million children are now internally displaced, deprived of health care, education, sanitation and safe water. Yemen’s gross domestic product (GDP) has dropped 40 per cent since 2015, and despite the availability of food, 21 million people — including almost 11 million children — require humanitarian aid. Twenty million lack access to health services.
“Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares,” she said, with one child dying every 10 minutes from preventable causes. Parents struggle to provide enough food for their families. Children fortunate enough to attend school could be killed by a bullet, explosion or landmine — recruited into fighting or forced into marriage because their family is simply “out of options”.
The horrors of violence will leave children physically and emotionally scarred for their entire lives, she said. With hostilities escalating, she called on parties — and the Council itself — to place children first, granting UNICEF sustained humanitarian access everywhere, removing bureaucratic hurdles and opening the port of Hudaydah for food and fuel delivery. The international community must increase aid, she said, as the children of Yemen need a comprehensive and lasting peace.
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, lamented the lack of progress on the four-point plan presented to Yemeni parties: a nationwide ceasefire; reopening of Sana’a airport; the easing restrictions on fuel and commodity flows through Hudaydah port; and resumption of face-to-face political negotiations.
Explaining that the Houthis continue to condition resumption of their participation in the political process on the opening of Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport, as well as on the ending of what they call the “aggression and occupation”, he noted that only three commercial fuel vessels were cleared to berth at Hudaydah since the beginning of July, with four more in holding. He urged the Government to allow entry of all essential commercial supplies without delay.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates noted that the Council and international community are essentially united in their stand on Yemen, with many calling for an immediate nationwide ceasefire and increased humanitarian assistance. Several raised the spectre of famine — and particular suffering of women and children — as overriding challenges, with the representative of India, Security Council President for August, expressing concern in his national capacity about the long‑lasting impacts on an entire generation of Yemenis. Niger’s delegate was among those urging parties to the conflict to acknowledge that civil war cannot be resolved by military might. They must show restraint and compassion for the sorely afflicted people. Noting that humanitarian plans are only financed to 47 per cent, he called on donor States to be more generous.
The representative of France meanwhile condemned the ongoing military offensives, reaffirming that Security Council resolutions must be respected, with Houthis engaging in good-faith dialogue with the new United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg. “We know what is needed to end the crisis,” she said. However, the Russian Federation’s delegate reminded that the Council’s role is to avoid taking sides and assist the Special Envoy, as any assistance must be unbiased and non-discriminatory.
Offering the national perspective, Yemen’s representative said his people cannot sustain any more suffering, with militias supported by Iran perpetuating their intransigence and arrogance in a “despicable and absurd war”. Calling attacks on Ma’rib “crimes against humanity”, targeting civilians with missiles and drones and exacerbating the suffering of 2 million internally displaced people, mostly women and children, he urged the international community to uphold its legal and ethical responsibilities.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Estonia, Norway, Mexico, United States, Viet Nam, Ireland, Tunisia, Kenya and China.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.
KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, lamented the lack of progress in the search for an agreement based on the four-point plan presented to the Yemeni parties: a nationwide ceasefire; the re-opening of Sana’a airport; the easing of restrictions on the flow of fuel and other commodities through Hudaydah port; and the resumption of face-to-face political negotiations between the parties.
Noting that the Houthis have continued to condition their resumed participation in the political process on the opening of Hudaydah port and Sana’a airport, as well as on the ending of what they call the “aggression and occupation”, he called for timely implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, emphasizing the vital need to address the deteriorating security situation in Yemen’s southern governorates.
On the security front, he said that, in addition to the sporadic fighting observed in Al Jawf and Taïz, Ma’rib remains the key strategic focus, reporting that the main arterial routes to Ma’rib are now more seriously threatened as the Houthis move further north towards the border. In that regard, he once again called upon the parties to completely and immediately cease attempts to make territorial gains by force. He also pointed out the continued attacks on the land- and sea-based infrastructure in southern Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, as well as continued reports of air strikes launched by the Saudi-led coalition.
Turning to the economic front, he expressed concern about the record-low value of the Yemeni rial in Government-controlled areas, the increased gap in exchange rates between Sana’a and Aden, and the Southern Transitional Council’s recent threat to enforce an independent local exchange rate in Aden and other southern areas. Another concern, he continued, is the opposition by the Houthis and the private sector to the Government’s doubling of the customs dollar exchange rate for imports.
Expressing further concern about the worsening fuel supply, particularly in Houthi-controlled areas, he noted that only three commercial fuel vessels were cleared to berth at Hudaydah port since the beginning of July, with four vessels still in holding. All but one petrol stations belonging to the Yemen Petroleum Company in Houthi-controlled governorates have reportedly closed, leading to a hike in prices in the parallel market, he reported. The Government should urgently allow the entry of all essential commercial supplies to Hudaydah without delay, he stressed.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, briefing the Council for the first time in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, even though Yemen is home to a rich culture, amazing history and wonderful people, “war overshadows everything”. It is civilians, particularly children, who are bearing the brunt of this brutal war, he said, noting that the offensive in Ma’rib and clashes along nearly 50 other front lines have so far reportedly killed or injured more than 1,200 civilians. Institutions and public services have imploded, depriving people of clean water, sanitation, education and health care, he said, also pointing to the spread of diseases like cholera and COVID-19 under such conditions.
Describing how the war has decimated Yemen’s economy, he highlighted the risk of famine, as well as the toll taken by climate change. This year’s rains are the heaviest ever and over 100,000 people have been affected by flooding in the last few weeks alone. While 20 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance and protection, the overarching priority is to stop the famine. About 5 million people are one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it, while 10 million more are right behind them. “Famine is not just a food problem, it is a symptom of a much deeper collapse,” he warned, describing it as “all of Yemen's problems rolled into one”. A comprehensive response means providing immediate relief to the millions of people who are on the verge of famine.
Noting that humanitarian funding has surged since the March pledging event, he thanked all donors, and in particular, highlighted recent contributions by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States. The annual humanitarian programme is 50 per cent funded and has received more money than any other appeal in the world. The Organization’s humanitarian partners and agencies — the majority of which are Yemeni non-governmental organizations — are working in every single one of the country’s 333 districts during a live war. Noting that delivering aid in Yemen is often more difficult than it should be, due to bureaucratic impediments, he outlined efforts to resolve these access challenges. Asking donors to increase their contributions, he said agencies will soon start running out of money and pointed to the humanitarian event on Yemen to be hosted by the European Union, Sweden and Switzerland in September.
“People in Yemen are starving, not because there is no food, but because they cannot afford it,” he warned. Incomes have dried up, he said, noting in particular that a quarter of the population relies on civil servant salaries which have become erratic and reliable. Paying these salaries would “put money in people’s pockets”, and keep services running. Also emphasizing the need to protect remittances, he noted that commodity prices have skyrocketed. The Yemeni currency has collapsed, which is a disaster in a country heavily dependent on imports, he said, calling for an end to profiteering and for the lifting of restrictions on commercial imports. Also stressing that international humanitarian law requires all parties to enable care for the wounded and the sick — which should include travel abroad when treatment is not available — he underscored that a ceasefire will give desperate civilians a break and create space to address the drivers of the crisis.
HENRIETTA FORE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that adults started a war in Yemen more than six years ago, despite knowing the violent toll it would take on children. Seven years later, the country faces the worst humanitarian crisis in world, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since last addressing the Council two years ago, she noted little has changed, with 2.6 million children now internally displaced and basic services, including health care, education and sanitation, on the brink of total collapse. Expressing “utmost concern” over the widespread lack of access to safe water, she noted Yemen’s gross domestic product (GDP) has dropped 40 per cent since 2015, with one quarter of the population relying on civil servant salaries paid erratically if at all. Despite the availability of food, 21 million people —including almost 11 million children — require humanitarian aid, and 20 million lack access to health services. One child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, she stressed.
Education is also gravely impacted, with 2 million children out of school, 1 in 6 schools no longer serviceable and teachers having received no salary for four years. These conditions place an additional 4 million children at risk as teachers quit, with those who do not finish education condemned to perpetual poverty. “We are deeply worried” the numbers do not adequately reveal what children experience, she said, from watching parents struggle to fight off starvation, being killed by a bullet, explosion or landmine, recruited to join the war or forced into marriage. Having experienced or witnessed horrific violence, children will carry physical and emotional scars for their entire lives. “Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares,” she stressed. UNICEF is making efforts on every level, including responding to COVID-19 vaccine needs and providing cash transfers to households. Despite glimmers of progress on the political front, there are no tangible signs of peace on the ground, with hostilities escalating in some places. Calling on parties to the conflict and the Council itself to place children first, she said UNICEF needs sustained humanitarian access to people in need, no matter where they are. Bureaucratic hurdles must not prevent its work, including crucial demining operations. She called for opening the port of Hudaydah, allowing food and fuel into Yemen, urging the international community to increase aid, as children need a comprehensive and lasting peace.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) welcomed Hans Grundberg’s appointment as the new Special Envoy for Yemen, calling it an opportunity for finding new momentum in resolving the crisis in that country. There is no military solution, he stressed, urging all parties to engage in good faith with the new envoy. Also noting that urgent steps are needed to address the economic crisis, he expressed concern about the collapse of the Yemeni rial. Yemenis cannot afford food or hospital treatments, he said, calling for an infusion of external financial support. Noting his own Government’s efforts in that regard and thanking other contributors, he cautioned that the relatively well-funded humanitarian response cannot keep pace with the deteriorating economy. Also voicing concern about the spread of COVID-19, he called on the authorities to acknowledge this risk and not suppress the collection of health data or impede vaccination.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) expressed concern over the escalation of violence, especially in Ma’rib Province, where Houthi attempts to establish control and efforts by Government and the Arab coalition are prolonging conflict. Over the past six years, alternatives to inter-Yemeni negotiations have proven they do not exist, she noted, calling on all parties to immediately refrain from military operations, observe international humanitarian law and pursue diplomatic paths to resolve disagreements. Affirming that the parties must show a willingness to compromise, she welcomed mediation efforts by States, including Oman. With the United Nations describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, she called on donors to step up aid and lift the maritime blockade, allowing deliveries of food and fuel. Any assistance must be unbiased and non‑discriminatory, she said, noting that the Security Council’s role is to avoid taking sides and assist the Special Envoy.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), pointing to the recent report entitled “Education Disrupted”, voiced concern about the larger numbers of children in need of humanitarian aid. Many of these children have only known a life that occurs against the backdrop of crisis-level food insecurity, a pandemic, hostilities and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, she lamented. Praising the work of UNICEF and its partners, she welcomed the additional funding to the Humanitarian Response Plan, as well as the recent funding announcements made by international partners. Emphasizing the importance of remittances from abroad, she added that the COVID-19 pandemic adds another toxic dimension to the conflict, exacerbating its socioeconomic impact. The only way to achieve a successful end to the war is through an inclusive and balanced Yemeni-led, Yemeni-owned and Yemeni-focused dialogue, she underscored.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) stressed the importance of reaching a sustainable and nationwide ceasefire and resuming an inclusive political process. He called on the Government and the Southern Transitional Council to avoid increasing tensions and to resume implementation of the Riyadh Agreement. Expressing deep concern about ongoing hostilities in Ma’rib and Al Bayda, he pointed to the record number of civilian casualties since the 2018 signing of Stockholm Agreement. More than 24,500 people have been displaced in Ma’rib in 2021 and 156,000 people since January 2020, adding to already dire socioeconomic conditions, marked by food insecurity, COVID-19 and flooding. Humanitarian agencies have only limited means to help the 400,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, families affected by COVID-19 and the record numbers of people forced to flee their homes. He condemned the continued attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as recruitment and use of children in hostilities. He stressed the importance of ensuring unhindered humanitarian access and guaranteeing a regular flow of fuel and other essential commodities to all parts of Yemen, while calling on the Houthis to ensure immediate and full access to the Safer oil tanker for the United Nations team.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) said that, despite years of multifaceted crisis, parties to the conflict still cannot agree to the minimum required: a cessation of conflict. They must acknowledge that civil war cannot be resolved by military might, he stressed, urging all protagonists to show restraint and compassion for the sorely afflicted people, the only hope for a return to peace and improvement of the humanitarian crisis. With almost 20 million people requiring assistance, but humanitarian plans only financed to 47 per cent, he called on donor States to be more generous. It is also urgent to remove obstacles to humanitarian aid delivery, especially in the port of Hudaydah. Noting that the Safer oil tanker remains a source of concern, he said it is high time for Ansar Allah authorities to grant authorizations and guarantees to the United Nations team.
ODD-INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) stressed the need for a nationwide ceasefire, noting that it would allow for much‑needed humanitarian relief, the opening of roads to many parts of Yemen and safe conditions for children to go to school. Voicing concern about the offensive continuing in the area around Ma’rib, as well as in other parts of the country, he also highlighted the restrictions on imports and on free movement across the country. Such bureaucratic impediments are a real challenge for people in need of humanitarian aid and basic services, he said, stressing that Norway will continue to advocate for an inclusive political process, which prioritizes the full, equal and meaningful participation and leadership of women.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) condemned the ongoing military offensives by Houthi militias, who also continue to blackmail the international community, refusing the United Nations access to the endangered Safer oil tanker, and recruiting children to the battlefield. Security Council resolutions must be respected, she insisted, with Houthis engaging in good-faith dialogue with the new Special Envoy. “We know what is needed to end the crisis,” she stated. Her delegation has repeatedly expressed concerns over the impingement of Yemeni territory. The international community must do everything it can to relieve the suffering of 20 million people in need of humanitarian aid — including 2 million displaced children — and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with unimpeded access to those in need, including in areas controlled by Houthis.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), voicing concern about the increasing number of offensives in different parts of Yemen, called for efforts to facilitate the inspection of weapons seized near the coast. Urging the parties to comply with their international humanitarian law obligations, she drew attention to the Houthi recruitment camps for minors and called for an end to such practices of radicalizing Yemeni youth. Additionally, sexual violence and forced marriages are further jeopardizing the prosperity of future generations, she said, adding that all parties to the conflict must protect Yemen’s boys and girls. Calling for increased cooperation among the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 2140 (2014), the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF, she underscored the importance of a Yemeni-led political process.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said the appointment of the new Special Envoy presents an opportunity, as the Yemen conflict marks a rare example of the international community and Council sharing broad consensus. “Let us seize this moment, as time is precious,” she said, noting that June was the deadliest month in Ma’rib Province in nearly two years. A nationwide ceasefire is needed. While the Saudi-led coalition has shown openness to a ceasefire, the Houthis have not and “this is the moment to change their minds”. With over 2 million young people facing malnutrition, she drew attention to the $160 million in additional United Nations assistance, which will help 11 million people every month, and thanked Qatar for its $100 million contribution. Citing Houthi abuses of children, including military recruitment, she cited the futility of reaching a durable solution or addressing food security without tackling the underlying economic grievances. With 5 million people on the verge of famine, she urged Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Government and the Houthis to ensure that food and fuel are distributed at a fair price. There is a real opportunity for peace if the Council stands together as one, she said.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) said casualties are on the rise in Yemen, including those of women and children from all sides. There is no military solution to the conflict and he urged all parties to respond to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. On the humanitarian front, he recognized encouraging contributions from donors, stressing the importance of greater funding and reimbursement for humanitarian agencies so they can provide aid until year-end. Noting that 21 million people — including 11 million children — need humanitarian assistance, he stressed that 2.25 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition and that 2 million minors are now out of school. In Ma’rib alone, 154 civilians have been killed and 21,500 people displaced in 2021. He said the sea blockade on food and fuel supplies must be lifted, pressing all parties to uphold children's right to education and urging the Houthis to allow the United Nations technical team access to the Safer oil tanker without further delay.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) voiced regret that the summer had seen so much deterioration in the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen, with devastating consequences for ordinary people. Calling for a nationwide ceasefire that would open the way for inclusive negotiations, she also stressed the need for full participation by women. Voicing support for the Unity Government of Yemen, she voiced concern about the continued absence of women in the cabinet. “We will return to this point again and again,” she said, adding that the briefings lay bare the impact of war and poverty on innocent children. When girls have access to education, they are empowered to participate fully in social and economic lives, she said, calling it shameful that 70 per cent of Yemeni girls are married while still children. The effects of famine are not only immediate, but intergenerational, she pointed out, calling for the lifting of import restrictions and the payment of civil servant salaries.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) noted that parties to the conflict insist on military options despite efforts to abate them, leading to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic. Military options only lead to greater suffering and can only be ended through a political settlement requiring an immediate ceasefire. It is also crucial to preserve the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, with women and youth participating in the process. Welcoming the appointment of new the Special Envoy, he emphasized the need to end military actions, especially Houthi attacks on Ma’rib and on Saudi Arabia’s territory. With living conditions in Yemen continuing to deteriorate, marked by declining purchasing power and near-famine, he called for unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance, with seaports and airports opened.
MICHAEL KIBOINO (Kenya) described the lack of progress in achieving a political solution in Yemen as “disappointing”, calling all stakeholders to engage constructively in an inclusive Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned process, with the support of partners — including the United Nations — in achieving a nationwide ceasefire within an agreed timeframe. Expressing concern over fighting in Ma’rib, Abyan, Al Baydah, Hudaydah, Al Jawf and Taïz, among other areas, he reiterated Kenya’s condemnation of the use of children for military purposes, while warning that recent events in Afghanistan could inspire and embolden Jihadist groups in the region and beyond. He pointed to the heightened risk of famine affecting more than 20 million people — notably 2 million children who remain out of school — calling for enhanced education support and condemning attacks on schools or use of school infrastructure for military purposes. He also expressed concern over the use of water-borne improvised explosives on ships off of Yemen’s coast and other nearby waters, stressing that the Houthis must engage in finding a solution to the issue of the Safer oil tanker.
GENG SHUANG (China) proposed three measures to address the Yemen crisis, first calling for a comprehensive ceasefire and resumption of the peace process without delay, as a political solution is the only way out of the conflict. He called upon countries in the region to “bring full play” to their roles in facilitating peace talks, while drawing attention to China’s five-point initiative for achieving peace and stability in the Middle East. Commending mediation efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman, he called for greater humanitarian assistance to bolster Yemen’s economy amid the threats of famine, pandemic and flooding. All parties to the conflict should provide safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, he added, while urging the Houthis to cooperate with United Nations technical team by allowing it access to the Safer oil tanker as soon as possible.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), Council President for August, noted in his national capacity that the military escalation in Ma’rib has triggered counteroffensive operations in other provinces in Yemen. He stressed the importance of full implementation of the Stockholm and Riyadh Agreements, adding that the recent rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths has triggered fears of a third wave of the pandemic. Women and children have suffered the most during these long years of conflict, he said, voicing concern about the long-lasting impacts on an entire generation in Yemen. Further, the recent oil spill off the coast of Aden is a pertinent reminder for urgently redressing the situation around the Safer tanker, he said, voicing support for immediate access to vessel. India is a long-standing friend of Yemen with historic ties that have been nurtured and strengthened over centuries, he affirmed, calling for an urgent nationwide ceasefire followed by a robust and inclusive political process.
ABDULLAH ALI FADHEL AL-SAADI (Yemen) said the Special Envoy has his delegation’s full support to reach a comprehensive political solution to the crisis driven by Houthi militants. The Yemeni people cannot sustain any more humanitarian suffering, with militias supported by Iran’s regime continuing their intransigence and arrogance, rejecting all international efforts and attacking cities and internal displacement camps. Noting Government efforts to end “this despicable and absurd war”, he cited measures to compromise and staunch bloodshed, calling on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and pressure the Houthis to end hostilities, as a lack of efforts encourage them to continue.
He pointed out that the Houthis use Hudaydah as a base for launching booby‑trapped vessels and piracy, targeting international navigation and trade routes, while using the Stockholm Agreement to destabilize Yemen. He cited continued attacks on Ma’rib, targeting civilians with missiles and drones, exacerbating the suffering experienced by 2 million internally displaced people, mostly women and children. “These are crimes against humanity,” he affirmed, calling on the international community to uphold its legal and ethical responsibilities, and to offer emergency support to Government efforts, notably those to prevent collapse of the national currency. In addition, the Safer oil tanker threatens environmental and economic disaster, for which the Houthis are responsible, he said.