What's In Blue

Posted Tue 7 Nov 2017

Yemen: Humanitarian Briefing in Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (8 November), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock will brief Council members in consultations on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Sweden requested the meeting last week, following Lowcock’s recent visit to Yemen. Discussion tomorrow is also likely to refer to developments this past weekend, in particular the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s announcement that it is closing all Yemeni ports following a missile launched by Houthi rebels that targeted Riyadh.

From 24 to 28 October, Lowcock visited Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis after over two-and-half years of war. This was his first trip to the country since he became head of OCHA in September. The visit took him to Aden, Lahj, Sana’a, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Amran governorates. Lowcock also attended a meeting on Yemen in Riyadh organised by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Relief Center on 29 October. Council members will be interested in Lowcock’s impressions of the visit, which he briefed all member states about in an open meeting yesterday (6 November).

During yesterday’s briefing, Lowcock highlighted the conditions of malnourishment and internal displacement that he witnessed. He emphasised, inter alia, the impact that the non-payment of civil servants’ salaries, including those of teachers and health and sanitation workers, has had on slowing or ceasing basic services, such as closing schools or inhibiting efforts to address the cholera epidemic. Lowcock noted that though the spread of cholera has begun to slow, the conditions exist for it to once again take-off. He also referred to constraints on access which he said have hampered OCHA’s ability to scale up humanitarian assistance, and the need for all parties to the conflict to provide “safe, rapid, unhindered humanitarian access to people in need, through all ports and airports, including Hodeidah port and Sana’a airport”.

Fighting continues to inflict heavy civilian casualties amidst an absence of any progress in advancing the political process. Just over the past week, two airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on a market in Saada governorate killed 31 civilians on 1 November, and an entire family of 7 people was killed in a 3 November airstrike when a house was hit, also in Saada. A statement today on recent civilian casualties in Yemen by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights further highlighted that five children were killed and two were wounded in Taiz on 2 November from shelling by forces affiliated with the Houthis and those loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. There was also heavy fighting this weekend in Aden, with at least seventeen people killed when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant attacked a security compound.

Discussion at tomorrow’s meeting is likely to refer to the missile fired on 4 November from Yemen at Riyaydh, which was intercepted over the city with fragments reportedly landing over the airport area. In response, there was a reported intensification of airstrikes over Sana’a, and the Coalition said in a statement that this “could rise to be considered as an act of war” by Iran, which it claimed had supplied the Houthis with the missile. The Coalition further announced that it was temporarily closing all Yemeni ground, air and sea ports to address apparent arms smuggling, though adding that “these measures will be implemented while taking into consideration the continuation of the entry and exit of humanitarian supplies”. At yesterday’s briefing, when asked by several member states about access constraints, Lowcock noted that he did not want to go beyond what he had said in his prepared remarks and that he had been in discussions with stakeholders, hopefully with progress to report by Wednesday’s Council meeting. This was a reference to his personal engagement with Coalition officials to re-open Yemen’s ports. Council members are likely to be interested in learning more about these consultations.

Since the Coalition announcement, the UN said yesterday that two UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights were being denied access to Sana’a, an issue that Lowock seemed to touch on at his briefing when he emphasised that “it is absolutely essential that the operation of the UNHAS and related services for staff of humanitarian agencies proceeds unhindered day by day”. According to media reports, the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism, which provides clearance for commercial shipping going to Houthi-controlled ports, has suspended such approvals and in an email said that all vessels must immediately leave holding areas. The head of the U.N. World Food Program, David Beasley, said in an interview with the Associated Press that hundreds of thousands of children in Yemen will be “on the brink of starvation” if the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of air, sea and land access lasts for even two weeks.

Further regarding this weekend’s developments, US Ambassador Nicki Haley issued a press release earlier today, which said that recent information provided by Saudi Arabia showed that an Iranian missile had been used by the Houthis in an attack against Saudi Arabia this past July and expressed concern over the possible Iranian origins of the 4 November missile shot down over Riyadh. It asserted that the provision of such weapons to Houthi militias by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp‎s was simultaneously violating Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. (Resolution 2216 established an arms embargo on the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, while resolution 2231 endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran).