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Yemen: Famine

Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 6 November 2018


Asked by

The Earl of Sandwich to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to help end the famine caused by the war in Yemen.

My Lords, Sir Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, recently warned the UN Security Council of the “clear and present” danger of famine in Yemen. Famine has not yet been declared. The UK is providing £170 million this year to feed millions and to treat malnutrition. Ports are open and there is food in the main markets. We are working with the Central Bank of Yemen to reverse the currency devaluation so that food is again affordable.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. It is quite true that food is reaching maybe 8 million people, and that is in spite of the blockade, which is a year old today. But this war is not going anywhere. The port of Hodeida is still besieged; the peace process has completely stalled; half the country’s health facilities no longer function; there is cholera; and 2 million young mothers and children are malnourished. What more can our Government do to end this near-catastrophe?

It is a catastrophe at the present time. What is happening there is a manmade disaster and, yet again, where there are manmade conflicts and wars, women and children are the first to suffer as a result. The situation is intolerable and we are working across a range of different headings. The only solution is for the parties to the conflict to come to the negotiating table. We thought that we were getting close to that in Geneva, through the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy. However, one party did not turn up for that set of dialogues. The Foreign Secretary has indicated that discussions are under way with the UN Security Council to see what more can be done. In the meantime, we continue our efforts to work through international agencies to relieve some of the suffering. But ultimately, that suffering will be halted only when the conflict stops.

My Lords, in this catastrophe, as my noble friend so rightly calls it, what has the response of Iran been, in this very difficult and complex situation, to the overtures for peace from the UN? We know well what the Saudis do, but the Iranian influence there seems to be somewhat more hidden.

My noble friend raises an important issue. Some of the armaments that have been fired, including ballistic missiles, have been traced back to Iran. Essentially, if we are going to address the humanitarian crisis, which is the urgency, all parties to the conflict need to get round the table and, rather than seeking to apportion blame, seek to find a solution that provides a de-escalation of the situation, leading to a ceasefire.

My Lords, events in Turkey are influencing the situation, and no doubt the US initiative on peace is an important one. But it has to be sustainable peace. The Minister has mentioned that some parties are not participating, but how closely are we in contact with the US authorities to make sure that any peace deal that is made is sustainable and that all parties will be properly involved?

We are in very close contact on this. As the noble Lord knows, we are the penholder at the UN Security Council on this issue. My right honourable friend Alistair Burt is doing a terrific job in trying to get the parties moving through dialogue and debate. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary made an announcement that might be helpful for the UK’s discussions with the UN Security Council, in which he said:

“For too long in the Yemen conflict, both sides have believed a military solution is possible, with catastrophic consequences for the people. Now, for the first time, there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table, stop the killing and find a political solution that is the only long-term way out of disaster. The UK will use all its influence to push for such an approach”.

That is a strong statement and we look forward to it being implemented.

My Lords, over the past weekend, fighting has escalated around Yemen’s key port city of Hodeida, with more than 150 combatants killed. Given that 80% of international aid comes through the Hodeida port, what impact might this have on the 8 million people at risk of starvation due to the looming famine? Does the Minister agree with his colleague, and former Secretary of State at DfID, that our support for the Saudi-led coalition means that the UK is complicit in the starvation of children in Yemen—those are his words?

The last point is a very serious charge, which I do not accept. As the noble Baroness will know, the coalition in Yemen is operating under UN Security Council Resolution 2216. As I said before, there is no doubt that the situation is absolutely intolerable and we need to get everybody to the table. Our Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, played an instrumental role in breaking the blockade of the ports to allow food in through speeding up the UN verification and inspection process, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that help gets to those who need it.

My Lords, what representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the KSA and UAE about the use of British-built military hardware, which some people are really concerned could be used for, as is being alleged, war crimes?

We have made very strong representations on that. That is why a joint centre was established to improve how targeting was done in a way that minimised civilians and in which allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law could be investigated and reports published. That is one way in which we seek to do that, but ultimately this will be solved only by the parties to this conflict coming around the table, allowing a ceasefire and allowing humanitarian agencies freedom to be able to address the catastrophic situation on the ground.