Yemen: Briefing and Consultations on Humanitarian Situation
On Wednesday (19 August), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien will brief the Council on his 9-13 August visit to Yemen and Djibouti. Following the briefing, Council members will meet with O’Brien in consultations where he is expected to emphasise the need for humanitarian assistance and a durable, political solution.
O’Brien visited Sana’a, Aden and Amran in Yemen. In Sana’a and Aden, O’Brien discussed ways to strengthen aid operations and the protection of civilians with officials. He also met with displaced families in Aden and Amran and aid workers from the UN, as well as national and international NGOs. O’Brien concluded his mission on 13 August in Djibouti, which is hosting 20,000 Yemeni refugees, and where the UN has a logistics hub for coordinating and distributing aid.
Members will be interested in hearing if there has been any progress in strengthening aid operations or improving the protection of civilians. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, since the escalation of the conflict in March, there have been at least 1,950 civilians killed and 4,271 wounded. O’Brien told the Council at his last briefing, on 28 July, that none of the parties were respecting international humanitarian and human rights law. Members will want to know if he has any further information following his visit. It seems O’Brien might cover the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and the escalating cost of rebuilding critical infrastructure.
Council members are likely to raise concerns related to access for humanitarian aid. In consultations with Special Envoy for Yemen Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed last Wednesday (12 August), a number of members were concerned that humanitarian aid was apparently only being allowed by the Yemeni government and the coalition to enter Yemen through the port of Aden, requiring the UN to cross front-lines as it moves the cargo across the country. Members may wish to discuss this with O’Brien. In this context members may raise today’s bombing of the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is a critical hub for aid supplies to the north.
Members are expected to also be interested in discussing whether there have been any improvements in increasing the supply of commercial goods, such as food and fuel, which for months have fallen to a fraction of pre-conflict levels as a consequence of the coalition’s de facto blockade and the violence. As has been discussed previously in the Council, the lack of fuel has resulted in a number of severe problems, including the inability to operate pumps to access ground water, and making it difficult to power hospitals. In this regard, members may ask where the UN’s negotiations stand with the coalition on establishing a Verification and Inspection Mechanism (VIM) for increasing commercial deliveries, and the prospects of implementing such a mechanism. Some members may suggest that until the VIM is operating the Council should consider doing more to ensure the arms embargo established by resolution 2216 is being correctly implemented. Resolution 2216 states that inspections should be conducted only when there is information providing reasonable grounds that a cargo contains prohibited items, and all inspections should be reported to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. It seems the coalition has been indiscriminately inspecting ships and not following the reporting procedures set out in resolution 2216.
A key area O’Brien is expected to focus on is the funding shortage facing the UN’s humanitarian response in Yemen. Of the $1.6 billion that OCHA has appealed for, it has received only $282 million or 18 percent of the funding. According to a 10 August OCHA update report, Yemen is currently one of the most underfunded crises in the world. Outstanding pledges from regional donors amounting to $621 million, as well as $99 million from traditional donors, remain unpaid. UN agencies have still not concluded agreements with Saudi Arabia for the $244 million it pledged in April when it offered to fund in full OCHA’s flash humanitarian appeal.
When the Council met with O’Brien on 28 July, the UK and US suggested the UN appoint a special envoy based in Riyadh to focus on coordination between the Yemen government and the coalition. O’Brien had noted it could be a useful idea if it does not undermine OCHA’s work in Yemen. Members may be looking for an update on whether it would be feasible to go ahead with this idea.
While tomorrow’s meeting is expected to largely focus on the humanitarian impact of the Yemen crisis, O’Brien has made clear that he believes a political process is necessary to solve the humanitarian crisis. Members may use the consultations to discuss what more the Council could do to support political efforts to reach a ceasefire.
In consultations last week (12 August), Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the Houthis and General People’s Congress presented a proposal containing elements for a full ceasefire, accompanied by withdrawal from cities, a monitoring system and respect of international humanitarian law, which is line with resolution 2216. However, the Yemen government has rejected the proposal. Following the meeting, Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu read out “press elements” agreed to by Council members encouraging “all parties to cooperate with [the Special Envoy] in the quest for a peaceful resolution of the conflict”. Members also noted the need for access to humanitarian goods and services and supplies “as this will be an essential early step towards peace.”
While Council members may use the opportunity of this meeting to discuss more substantive ways in which they may be able to support the political process there does not appear to be much appetite among members for a new resolution. The Council’s current approach seems to be issuing statements in support of the UN’s good offices role. Notably, the Council has yet to request a ceasefire, in part because the sides have had such difficulty agreeing to short-term humanitarian pauses, considered a first step for a broader cessation of hostilities. Additionally for members close to Saudi Arabia, there may be a reluctance to call for a ceasefire, which Saudi Arabia opposes. ((For more background on the evolution of Council dynamics on this issue see our Yemen brief in the August Forecast.)