By António Guterres *
GENEVA, Apr 2018 (IPS) – Thank you all for being here today to show your solidarity with the women, men, girls and boys of Yemen. And I want to thank my co-chairs, the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, for hosting this conference for the second year and for their continued humanitarian commitment.
Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection.
Some 18 million people are food insecure; one million more than when we convened last year. And a horrifying 8.4 million of these people do not know how they will obtain their next meal.
Millions of Yemenis do not have access to safe drinking water. Last year, 1 million people suffered from watery diarrhoea and cholera. Half of all health facilities are shut or not working properly, meaning there is a high risk of another cholera epidemic.
Treatable illnesses become a death sentence when local health services are suspended and it is impossible to travel outside the country. Civilians have been facing indiscriminate attacks, bombing, snipers, unexploded ordnance, cross-fire, kidnapping, rape and arbitrary detention.
Every ten minutes, a child under five dies of preventable causes. And nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.
Some two million children are out of school, and 2,500 schools have been destroyed or are not being used for their original purpose.
Children are being forcibly recruited to fight, or put to work to support their families. And families across the country are sliding into debt and coping in any way they can. Child marriage rates have escalated; nearly two-thirds of girls are married before the age of 18, and many before they are 15.
Three-quarters of displaced people are women and children, and women and girls among them face an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. And the number of women accessing services for gender-based violence has risen by at least 30 per cent, despite social constraints on reporting.
And these facts represent only a snapshot of the devastation.
Yemen’s situation today is catastrophic. But with international support, we can and must prevent this country from becoming a long-term tragedy.
The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen requires $2.96 billion to reach more than 13 million people across the country.
And we have a strong foundation on which to build. The humanitarian operation has expanded dramatically. At the start of last year, partners were reaching 3 million people per month with food assistance. By August, we were reaching more than 7 million people every month.
At the height of the cholera epidemic, more than 1,000 oral rehydration centres and 234 diarrhoea treatment centres were in operation – up from only 25 such centres earlier in this year.
Thanks to humanitarian agencies and our partners, the cholera epidemic has been contained and famine – even if famine is a technical concept that does not really describe the reality as many, many people are hungry – but famine has so far been averted, although there is no room for complacency on either count.
Your generosity made this work possible. But your generosity is well-deserved by the Yemeni people. In my capacity as High Commissioner for Refugees and during more than 10 years, I worked closely with Yemen.
Yemen has always received Somali refugees in big numbers coming to the country, and granting them prima facie refugee status, something that unfortunately, many other countries around the world refused to do, even if their resources and capacities are much larger than the resources and capacities of the Yemeni people.
The Yemeni people has always been extremely generous to those that came to Yemen in search of protection and assistance. And so our generosity is also a duty to match the generosity that Yemenis always have shown to those in need that have been able to seek their protection.
Last year’s donor conference raised $1.1 billion for humanitarian action in Yemen. This year, the United Nations and our partners on the ground are ready to do everything possible to expand our support even further. But we need resources.
Donors have already stepped forward. The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have generously provided $930 million for the Humanitarian Response Plan. They have also pledged to secure an additional $500 million from the region. And I deeply thank them.
Other donors have contributed some $293 million. This means that we have already met 40 per cent of our requirements for the year.
But the scale of suffering that we see in Yemen requires rapid, full funding for the 2018 response plan. And the plan is prioritized so that every dollar goes where it is urgently needed. I urge all to do whatever it is possible because the Yemeni people needs and deserves it.
My second message here today is that humanitarians must be able to reach the people who need help and to do so without conditions. Humanitarian agencies and their partners need full and unconditional access at all times. But humanitarian agencies report access constraints in 90 percent of districts in Yemen.
All ports must remain open to humanitarian and commercial cargo for the medicines, the food and the fuel needed to deliver them. And Sana’a airport is also a lifeline that must be kept open.
It is vital to provide safe, unimpeded, unrestricted humanitarian access to all parts of the country. And the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations Plan recently announced in Riyadh was an important step in this direction.
My final message is possibly the most important of all. We must see action to end the conflict.
This war is causing enormous human suffering to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, and there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian crises.
A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only solution. And I urge all parties to engage with my new Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, without delay.
And I reiterate my call for full respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Meanwhile, millions of people depend for their survival on the decisions we take today. And I hope you will match your participation here with action, to support humanitarian operations and to move decisively towards lasting peace in Yemen.
*António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, Portuguese politician and diplomat who is serving as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations. Previously, he was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees between 2005 and 2015.Guterres was the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and was the Secretary-General of the Socialist Party from 1992 to 2002. He served as President of the Socialist International from 1999 to 2005.