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Yemen: UN Envoy ‘guilty’ of optimistic hope that war is ‘nearing the end’

Children sitting next to their tent at the Al-Meshqafah camp in Yemen. (26 February 2019)
© UNICEF/Saleh Baholis
Children sitting next to their tent at the Al-Meshqafah camp in Yemen. (26 February 2019)

Yemen: UN Envoy ‘guilty’ of optimistic hope that war is ‘nearing the end’

Peace and Security

With Yemen once again at a “crucial moment” the UN Special Envoy trying to facilitate peace there told Security Council members on Thursday that despite the dangers of being over optimistic, he could not help thinking the country could finally be “nearing the end of its war.”

“It was not me, but a very senior and wise official in the region who recently said that this war can end this year”, said Martin Griffiths. “I take that as an instruction”, he added, pointing to recent positive meetings with the leadership of both the pro-Government coalition, and the Houthi rebel movement who had expressed “unanimous desire” to move towards a political solution “and to see it quickly”.

He said progress over implementing December’s Stockholm Agreement which provided a framework in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah was crucial, and praised the work of General Michael Lollesgaard who leads the UN monitoring mission there, UNMHA, for the “important breakthrough” recently over operational details agreed with the warring parties.

“My hope is that Hudaydah may finally allow us to focus on the political process before the end of this summer. Yemen has no time to waste”, said the Special Envoy. Although the ceasefire continues to broadly hold, he said he was concerned about other frontlines, especially continued Houthi attacks on civilian infrastructure across the Saudi border.

Without making specific references, Mr. Griffiths noted the dangers of Yemen being “dragged into a regional war”, following weeks of tension in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf. “Yemeni parties should desist from any actions that take Yemen in that direction. We need to prevent this to reduce regional tensions and save lives. We have to see de-escalation of the violence now.”

‘Agreement within reach’ on full resumption of food aid: Beasley

Agreement over the full resumption of food aid to some Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen is “within reach”, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) told Council members, following his reluctant and agonizing decision to suspend some aid last month.

David Beasley said the suspension - which was due to the persistent diversion by some Houthi leaders of emergency food supplies away from its intended civilian beneficiaries – had begun around the capital, but despite that, the overall number of people being reached had gone up from 10.6 to 11.3 million, “and we are continuing to scale up.”

“I am hopeful that we can use this positive momentum to resolve these outstanding issues in the coming days, if not hours”, he said. “That is what the people of Yemen deserve and demand of us.” Calling for WFP’s lifesaving work to be depoliticized by Yemen's leaders, he said humanitarian law protected the “neutral, impartial and independent” delivery of essential items.

Despite the limited food suspension (supplies have continued for those most in need), Mr. Beasley said that the “real story has been – and should continue to be – the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Yemen.”

He noted that to keep reaching the most vulnerable, WFP needs $1.2 billion over the next months, but current funding stands at less than half that.

“Continue to be generous with your contributions. And for those who have made pledges - make good on them. But I must say, we are reaching the point where no amount of money in the world will truly alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people”, he said, adding that “we are fast approaching those limits.”

Security Council calls ‘have not been heeded’ laments Lowcock

Council demands for Yemen’s warring parties to respect international humanitarian law, provide unhindered access to civilians and more funding to provide lifesaving services, “have not been heeded” said UN relief chief, Mark Lowcock.

With 30 active frontlines across the country, both sides have continued fighting and the Humanitarian Coordinator and head of OCHA, said his months-long call for a nationwide ceasefire was more needed now than ever.

Access to civilians and interference in the aid effort went far beyond the food diversions cited by WFP, he said, noting delays, denials of passage, and the withholding of vital permits by both sides, all of which was putting lives at risk. “Although access challenges are pervasive, they are not stopping the world’s largest aid operation”, he added.

Addressing the Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen where donors pledged $2.6 billion in February, Mr. Lowcock said that although the majority of donors had paid more than 75 per cent of their pledges, there was still a long way to go, with only 34 per cent of the promised amount reach so far.

“Those who have made the largest pledges – Yemen’s neighbours in the Coalition – have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised.” The consequences of that, were that cuts would have to be made to the UN’s humanitarian effort, he told Council members.

“Agencies are starting to suspend some regular vaccination campaigns targeting 13 million people, including 200,000 infants. Work on 30 new feeding centres in areas with the worst levels of hunger has also been halted. Up to 60 existing centres could close in the coming weeks, putting at least 7,000 malnourished children at immediate risk of death”, the relief chief said, citing further examples.

“In the next two months, UN agencies expect to close 21 more key programmes. In August”, he added, noting that the fight against cholera was now in retreat. Having cut cases of the deadly disease by more than half last year from around a million in 2017, “those gains have now been lost”.

“So far this year, nearly 500,000 cases of cholera have been reported. We have received reports so far of more than 700 deaths as a result, including more than 200 children. The death toll will surely grow.”