Addressing the UN Security Council on Friday, Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, said that although conflict continues to rage, he welcomed recent reports of reduced violence in the country.
Mr. Griffiths was addressing the Council alongside Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley.
The Special Envoy announced that the Yemeni Government and the Ansar Allah Houthi militants, are both committed to working on a political solution, and that he has received firm assurances from both sides, of a renewed commitment to attend talks.
The UN, said Mr. Griffiths, is about to conclude an agreement between the parties on the exchange of prisoners and detainees, which he described as an important humanitarian gesture and “a timely message of hope to the Yemeni people.”
Mr. Beasley and Mr. Lowcock both provided new details of the unfolding humanitarian crisis - the largest food security emergency in the world.
Mr. Lowcock revealed that, despite calls for the violence to stop, UN sources have observed nearly 800 separate incidents of shelling, armed clashes, or air strikes across Yemen; often with devastating consequences for civilians and, due to the fighting, humanitarian programmes have been scaled back in the port of Hudaydah, a crucial gateway for aid efforts.
Mr. Beasley, fresh from a three-day visit to Yemen this week, said that he had witnessed a country on the brink of catastrophe: “What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery. And we - all of humanity -- have only ourselves to blame.”
“What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery. And we - all of humanity - have only ourselves to blame.” David Beasley, WFP Executive Director.
Describing what he saw at a hospital in the Yemeni Capital Sana’a, Mr. Beasley said that there were dozens of severely sick and malnourished children, with around 50 cases arriving every day: “they only have room for 20. The rest? They go home to die.”
Restarting Yemen’s collapsed economy was identified by Mr. Griffiths as a main priority, and a “moral responsibility and obligation of the parties to the Yemeni people” He announced that he would soon convene a meeting of the Central Bank of Yemen, facilitated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The price of simple basic food staples in Yemen has doubled in the last eight months, said Mr. Beasley, even as household livelihoods are shrinking: “for a country that’s dependent on imports for the basic needs of life, this is disaster.”
Mr. Lowcock added that Saudi Arabia has helped to stabilise the Yemeni rial, depositing $200 million with the Central Bank of Yemen, which has helped to finance imports of food and other essential commodities, but substantially greater funds for humanitarian assistance will be needed, given the growing challenges faced by Yemen.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres plans to convene a high-level conference on Yemen with a focus on the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, in February.