What's In Blue

Posted Tue 27 Oct 2015

Yemen Arria-formula meeting on humanitarian assistance and relief efforts

Tomorrow afternoon (28 October), Jordan has organised an Arria-formula meeting on humanitarian assistance and relief efforts in Yemen. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien will brief, as will Abdullah Al-Rabiah, Chairman of the Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center and Adviser of the Royal Court in Saudi Arabia.

Jordan’s concept note, which was circulated late yesterday (26 October), said that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss innovative and practical ways to enhance humanitarian efforts in Yemen. Furthermore, it hopes to allow an exchange of views on challenges and opportunities for humanitarian action and improved coordination.

The original idea for the meeting apparently came from Saudi Arabia, which it seems wanted to present the work of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to counter increasing criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes and military intervention in Yemen. Al-Rabiah is expected to talk about the role of the Center and its future plans in increasing humanitarian efforts in Yemen.

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center was created on 13 May after Saudi Arabia pledged to fund all $274 million of OCHA’s emergency appeal for Yemen issued on 17 April. The Center was set-up to distribute this money. It also distributes other Saudi bilateral aid. However, it took about five months for the first of the promised funds to be available, as each UN agency conducting humanitarian work in Yemen had to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the use of the money. Of the pledged funds, $244 million has now been released as eight of nine MOUs were concluded in September, with the ninth expected to be signed within days.

Having Saudi Arabia, a party to the conflict, fund the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen has raised questions about principles of impartiality in providing humanitarian access. Some UN officials were particularly concerned, as negotiations on the MOUs dragged out, that Saudi Arabia was trying to favour pro-government areas. The UN’s decision to accept the funding may have initially discouraged other donors from contributing to the appeal, as they believed it was being fully covered. This created a large financial gap in the first months of the conflict. Speaking at a joint press conference with Al-Rabiah on Monday, O’Brien assured reporters that the negotiated MOUs enshrined humanitarian principles of impartiality.

O’Brien last briefed the Council on 19 August after visiting Yemen (S/PV.7507). He will provide an update on the humanitarian situation and is expected to emphasise the severity of conditions on the ground. With the recent influx of funds from Saudi Arabia and other donors, the UN’s $1.6 billion humanitarian response plan for Yemen is 47 percent pledged or committed, according to O’Brien. Access, though, remains a big problem, in particular for distribution of humanitarian assistance within the country, as well as the delivery of commercial goods to Yemen such as food and fuel.

O’Brien may also talk about the challenges of setting up the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UN VIM). The UN, Yemen government and Saudi-led coalition agreed to the UN VIM in August to facilitate shipping of commercial goods, which have severely declined since the conflict’s escalation in late March. This is in large part due to Coalition restrictions on shipping which it says are meant to enforce the arms embargo established in resolution 2216. The UN VIM is still not operational as it has not received the $8 million required to run it.

It seems there were concerns over having only the King Salman Center participate in the Arria-formula meeting. Some members felt it would only convey one perspective regarding the conflict. It seems that NGOs who had been approached were not keen to brief as it could potentially undermine their relationships on the ground. Some of these concerns appear to have been alleviated by the decision to have OCHA brief.

During tomorrow’s meeting, members are expected to stress the urgency of the humanitarian situation, such as the risk of famine. They are also likely to highlight that violations of international humanitarian law have been committed by all sides and stress the responsibility of all sides to respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

On issues related to access, some members may recall that in enforcing the arms embargo, resolution 2216 requires that all inspections of ships or flights be reported to the 2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee. The Chair of the Yemen 2140 Committee, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite (Lithuania), during her briefing on 23 October (S/PV.7542) said that to date only one inspection has been reported. Members may seek O’Brien and Al Rabiah’s advice on confidence building measures that can be taken to increase humanitarian aid and commercial goods, for example in relation to fuel imports, which the Coalition worries could have dual military uses.

Amidst some encouraging signs – the disbursement of the funds in September and the recent willingness on the part of the Yemen government to enter talks – members may be measured in their criticism, and look to balance expressing concerns over the Coalition’s actions and the need to promote cooperation. Some members might be questioning the impact of an Arria-formula meeting as they have been having regular briefings from O’Brien.