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Volume 794: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to provide humanitarian relief to Yemen following the agreement of the ceasefire in Hodeidah.

My Lords, following the positive outcomes of the Stockholm consultations, it is imperative that the parties act in good faith to implement the agreements. Any escalation of military activity must be avoided, and the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef and onward supply routes must be kept open. We continue to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation through our £170 million response this year. The UK is also discussing how best to support the ceasefire agreement with partners.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am glad that we are able to make a significant contribution but this humanitarian disaster is horrific in scale: 85,000 people have already starved to death, 420,000 children are being treated for malnutrition and we have seen the worst cholera epidemic in the past decade. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to consider whether we can provide additional help? In particular, what representations are they making to other countries to step up to the plate and address the shortfall so that we can try to resolve this humanitarian crisis?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to point out that this humanitarian crisis is without precedent. It is not going too far to repeat the words of the Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who said that this could be a famine on a scale that we have not seen for 100 years. The response needs to match that statement in its urgency. So far, the response to this year’s $3 billion appeal is around 80%; the UK’s contribution has been £170 million. We are the fifth-largest contributor behind Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and the United States. Next year, the appeal will be set at $4 billion. There will be a pledging conference in Geneva on 26 February. The world must step up to address the humanitarian crisis and seize this window of opportunity with the ceasefire to address the desperate needs of the people of Yemen.

My Lords, the situation is obviously very fragile. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement on the drafting of the UN resolution was repeated here. I repeat my tribute to Mark Lowcock, who ensured that humanitarian support was included in that resolution. However, the resolution not only acts as a trigger for the peace process and opening up the ports; as the right reverend Prelate said, it also gives us the opportunity to demand more assistance from the rest of the international community. I hope the Minister will ensure that we do so at the United Nations.

I am very happy to give that assurance. A draft is in circulation. It rightly seeks to embody in text at the Security Council the positions and agreements agreed in Stockholm, but it also includes a significant element on the humanitarian crisis and the need for the international community to come in behind that UN Security Council resolution, perhaps agreed today, to ensure that those needs are met.

My Lords, I put on record my admiration for the persistence of all those involved in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table. We are told that, following talks in Stockholm, further talks are scheduled for January in Kuwait, I believe. Does the Minister share my concern that the fragile agreement might have failed irrevocably by then and that reconvening the parties at an earlier date would be desirable?

In a sense it might be desirable, but that was the agreement made in Stockholm. That is what we have to follow with the six-week commitment. During that time we will see whether the other commitments to opening the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef and the prisoner exchanges happen. There are a number of steps along the way, but I certainly join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to British diplomats, of whom we can be proud, such as the UN special envoy Martin Griffiths and our own Sir Mark Lowcock, formerly a Permanent Secretary at DfID, for the work they have done.

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, some of us tried to find out during the Statement yesterday what exactly is happening in the port of Hodeidah. It is such a significant port for getting humanitarian aid in. Does the Minister have any up-to-date information? Given the ceasefire, we would expect a higher proportion of the dockside facilities to be available.

Yes, we would expect that to happen. The latest data we have is from November, with 60% of food and in particular fuel coming in through that port. We have been monitoring it very closely. The agreement in Stockholm requires a weekly update back to the UN Secretary-General to see what is happening with delivery on the ground. I am sure he will follow that closely.

My Lords, in the aftermath of this welcome ceasefire the rebels said that they might provide maps and details of where IEDs, landmines and booby traps have been laid. That would obviously save many lives if it could be facilitated. Also, could the Minister say whether good will gestures such as the exchange of prisoners might take place as well?

That provision of maps is an essential precursor to the delivery of humanitarian aid. There is about 140 miles of very remote, rough countryside between those two ports. If goods and people are to travel along it delivering aid, it is essential that they can do so in safety. It is a condition of the Stockholm agreement.

My Lords, as was made clear yesterday, humanitarian agencies from the UK and elsewhere are functioning in Yemen, despite the difficulties, but does the Minister agree that, because of the collapse of public institutions, people’s access to essential services—water, sanitation, healthcare and education—have completely collapsed? Humanitarian agencies could do a lot more if they were allowed to, but they can never compensate for government spending. Is the right reverend Prelate not absolutely right to say that our Government need not only to step up their own efforts but to ensure that the international community does so as well?

I wholeheartedly agree. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in leading the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on Yemen, which has raised so much from the British people. There is a huge amount more to be done in this area, but she is right to recognise the humanitarian workers in this situation, who are putting their lives on the line for humanity. It is right that, at this Christmas time, we remember and give thanks to them for the work they do to ease the suffering of the people of this world.