Statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mr. Martin Griffiths to the Security Council on Yemen, 23 August 2021 – Yemen


Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And thank you Khaled.

So I’m very happy to join you today on a topic, of course, quite familiar, albeit from a rather different point of view. And this is my first outing, in fact, to the Council in my new role, so I’m very happy that he is concerned with Yemen.

Yemen is truly a beautiful country – we were talking just before the start of the session. It is the home of a rich culture, an incredible history, beautiful places, wonderful people. Much more than the war we discuss here every month.

But after six years of this war, this war overshadows everything.

In my previous role, as Khaled mentioned, I had the immense privilege of trying to help Yemenis cross that line to make peace and end the war. And during this time, I have been repeatedly struck by the shocking brutality of the humanitarian crisis and listened intently to briefings from the eminent Mark Lowcock.

I am therefore grateful that I now have the opportunity to address these issues before this Council.

There is a lot to discuss. And in any case, it is the civilians – and as you will hear from Henrietta, in particular the children – who are paying the price.

The war continues, as Khaled described it, including Ansar Allah’s devastating offensive in Marib and clashes along nearly 50 other front lines. This year’s hostilities have reportedly killed or injured more than 1,200 civilians so far.

Institutions and public services have imploded, depriving people of clean water, sanitation, education, health care and helping to spread diseases like cholera and COVID-19, as we discussed before the start.

The war also decimated the economy. This collapse – as I’ll describe if you don’t mind, Mr.
Mr President, shortly – is perhaps the main driver of the humanitarian needs of the population, including the risk of famine.

And, as if all that weren’t enough, climate change is taking its toll – a direct and immediate toll.

This year’s rains were among the heaviest on record, with more than 100,000 people affected by flooding in the past few weeks alone.

So the list goes on and on. More than 20 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. This represents about two-thirds of the population. And that continues to be a pretty astonishing number.

But among all these needs, there may be one overriding humanitarian priority: stopping hunger. Today, around 5 million people are just one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it. Ten million more are right behind them.

Starvation is not just a “food problem”. It’s a symptom of a much deeper collapse, as you know. In many ways, these are all of Yemen’s problems in one. It demands a comprehensive response.

This, of course, means providing immediate aid to the millions of people who are on the brink of famine. It also means tackling the issues that drive Yemen to starvation in the first place. And this is particularly where I think the world can do more to help.

By October, for example, food aid will likely be reduced. And programs in other sectors – particularly health, water, sanitation and shelter – I’m sure Henrietta will speak to that – are already struggling. And if aid levels drop sharply, you run the risk of a return to famine.

Next month, the European Union, Sweden and Switzerland will host a humanitarian event on Yemen during General Assembly week. This meeting is an opportunity for the world to show once again its commitment, to renew its commitment to face this crisis with new funds.

But, Mr. President, I must be clear that even a well-funded humanitarian operation does relatively little to empower people to take care of themselves, which most Yemenis want.

The biggest challenge is the economy, and Khaled has already spoken about it. People in Yemen, as Mark has often said, do not starve because there is no food in the country. They are starving because they cannot afford it.

One of the reasons is that revenues have dried up. GDP has fallen by 40% since 2015, bringing with it many jobs. A quarter of the population – including doctors, teachers, health professionals, social workers, water and sanitation workers – depend on the salaries of civil servants, who, as you know, do not are paid only sporadically, erratically and unreliably.

Paying civil servants’ salaries – which is not a new, hotly debated issue – would put money in the pockets of millions of people. It is also essential for ensuring the functioning of basic services, many of which are key institutions for the humanitarian response. So of course we look forward to working with the parties to continue trying to find a solution to this problem. And I think there’s a lot of work that’s been done on this, certainly by the mission, but also by UNDP and others on how to meet those immediate needs.

But we also need to take measures to increase people’s income, the income of others. Protect remittances, for example, which are a lifeline for millions of families and are Yemen’s largest source of foreign exchange. And there was a story recently about the possibility that remittances from Saudi Arabia could be threatened, and of course that is a very important source of income for many people in Yemen.

This means promoting economic opportunities for farmers, fishing communities and local businesses. And I want to stress that it is not uncommon for a humanitarian leader, as I am now, to talk a lot about the livelihoods and development finance needs and institutions to survive through this kind of support and assistance.

Another reason that many people in Yemen cannot afford to eat is that, as I said, the prices of basic commodities are skyrocketing, not just food. Food is now more than three times as expensive as it was before the war. Fuel is four times more expensive, which of course has repercussions on other products.

Prices are rising in part because the Yemeni currency (the rial) has collapsed – a disaster, of course, in a country that relies on imports. Currency injections through the central bank, and Khaled referred to this, would help stabilize the rial. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been very generous in the past in this regard. It is very good news to hear today’s announcement by the IMF that Yemen will receive, I believe, $ 665 million in Special Drawing Rights, which will also help with liquidity and hopefully. the, will stem the fall of the rial.

Prices also increase because the parties interfere with the market. With the exception of food,
Government restrictions are now redirecting almost all commercial imports from the ports of Ansar Allahheld, Hudaydah, of course, to Aden and elsewhere. And a lot of those imports are then shipped by road to the north of the country, which increases the cost and actually affects the black market.

This approach is much more expensive. This opens the door to market manipulation, and the end result is much higher costs and prices for people who can’t afford the prices before anyway.

Restrictions on commercial imports beyond the international arms embargo – I want to be very clear on this, Mr President – should be lifted immediately. This means that the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef should be opened without additional obstacles. Other market manipulation – such as downstream profitability through the informal market – must also stop.

Doing this, as Khaled has said before, will increase civilians’ access to the goods they need to survive. And he talked about the need for tankers to enter those ports. This is in accordance with the obligation of all parties to treat civilians under their control with humanity, as required by international humanitarian law. It’s an obligation, it’s a responsibility, it’s not an option.

This is in accordance with the obligation under international human rights law to maintain an adequate standard of living. Refraining from obstructing access to essential goods and services is an important step towards meeting this obligation. And I want to make that appeal here at the Council.

On a related point, I think the airport in Sana’a should be reopened as well – at least for the thousands of civilians to travel abroad for treatment. International humanitarian law requires all parties to take care of the wounded and sick, and this should include travel abroad when care is not available.

To conclude, Mr. President, I may have exaggerated the way in which the economy generates needs and the risk of famine in Yemen, and that it is also to the economy that we must pay attention, to put people safe from this threat.

But we must not forget what caused the collapse of the economy in the first place, and that is the war. The world needs to push, as we have done so often in this forum, for that nationwide ceasefire that Khaled and the mission are talking about today.

A ceasefire will give desperate civilians a respite. This will create space to tackle the drivers of the crisis, which I have described at some length, as well as to provide the basis, as Khaled said, for the resumption of the comprehensive political process needed to end the war. .

I know from my own experience that resuming this political process is not an easy task. It’s essential. And I would like to congratulate Hans Grundberg, whom I know well, on his appointment as Special Envoy. He has, of course, our full support for his difficult, essential and central task.

And I hope that the war that has lasted too long can now be over.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

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