Report on the UN All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Yemen

Yemen

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By David Wardrop

On Tuesday 1st May 2018 United Nations APPG held a high-level parliamentary meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen which is truly dire and shameful to us all.

The main speaker was Sir Mark Lowcock UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. The chair was Lord Hannay of Chiswick.

The meeting was hosted by Lord Hannay and Mike Gapes MP, Co-Chairs of the APPG for the United Nations and held jointly by the APPGs for the United Nations; Global Security and Non Proliferation; Genocide Prevention and Crimes against Humanity; and Yemen.

Sir Mark Lowcock stressed the need to understand the drivers and roots of the current Yemen crisis and subsequent conflict. The scale of the fighting had been high and with many frontlines, therefore extremely complicated. He stressed also the need to understand the reasoning for the blockade, the clandestine supply of weapons to the Houthi, but nevertheless, his view was that the blockade was wrong. At present 22 million people need support, among whom about 4 million have no idea where their next food will come from.

With regard to the humanitarian response, $3 billion had now been requested, to enable the UN to reach about 7 million people as at the end of 2017. Soon, OCHA hopes to provide for up to 10 million. He feels confident in reaching this figure because the previous Geneva fundraising round reached $2 billion. However, this was mainly provided by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, neither demanding ring-fencing of these donations. This would allow OCHA to allocate funds for sanitation, inoculation and similar non-food projects.

He then referred to the blockade and associated economic issues. He claimed that the thoroughness of new UN inspection procedures of ships entering Yemen’s Red Sea ports has led to a relaxation of the blockade. However, the distribution of food and fuel is now being undertaken by private operators in the commercial marketplace but this is being tested as so many nominally employed by government, some unpaid for eighteen months, cannot afford either food or fuel so the market system is not yet working properly. Yemen has funds in foreign banks and there is discussion of using these to pay back wages and thus ‘oil’ the marketplace economy but there has been too little progress to date.

Sir Mark then addressed the country’s physical infrastructure, its airports and its shipping ports, especially on the Red Sea coast. However, indiscriminate harassing by various non-state actors continues so it is clear that the road to peace lies with dialogue to include the Saudis and the Houthis.

Finally, he referred to the military situation, noting that all agreed there is no military solution, stressing again the need for all parties to get behind the newly appointed Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Martin Griffiths, formerly with ActionAid.

Sir Andrew Mitchell noted that countries do sometimes go ‘bonkers’ as indicated by Yemen at present. He extended his argument to include the UK at the time of Brexit and the US during the Vietnam War. However, he regretted that the UK does not seem to be in a good position to intervene – even though it is the Security Council Pen-holder for Yemen – because of our tacit support for Saudi Arabia. And beyond that, the UK is nominally supporting President Hadi even though he has no degree of public support or credibility. He argued there is a need for a bottoms-up process and the UK should do all it can to support this.

Keith Vaz, Chairman of the APPG on Yemen, reported that the APPG would publish its report on 22 May with a ‘bottom line’ being the question ‘What will bring peace to this country?’ He asked the question ‘What can the UN do?’ sharing his disappointment at the performance of the P5 states. This was exemplified by the UK, the Pen Holder for Yemen, which should take the line that a defeat in the Security Council is surely better than inaction. Lord Hannay agreed, restating the maxim ‘If you hold the pen, pick it up!’

Mike Gapes, Chair of the APPG on Global Security and Non Proliferation, told the meeting of his recent visit to Saudi Arabia where he was able to see first-hand the impact of Houthi rockets on local communities. In fact, his plane was warned upon its approach to Riyadh airport that rockets were expected at any time. He spoke also about the remarkable changes in Saudi civil society since his last visit.

In response to questions, Sir Mark stated that Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian support (22 million) exceeded that of Syria (13 million) but deaths due to conflict were in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands as in Syria. Even so, major killers have been malaria, cholera and diphtheria and that it was clear that the blockade had accelerated the famine. In closing, Sir Mark noted that traditionally Yemen had been a fertile country able to supply most of its agricultural needs and that if its oil extraction rates could be improved, then that would be a major contributor.

Lord Hannay closed the meeting, thanking those who had spoken.

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