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Yemen: Humanitarian Situation

Volume 795: debated on Monday 14 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

My Lords, the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains the worst in the world. It is imperative that the parties act in good faith to implement the Stockholm agreements and UN Security Council Resolution 2451. Any military escalation must be avoided, and Hodeidah and Saleef ports and onward supply routes must be kept open. Alongside our diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, we continue to respond to the humanitarian crisis financially, through our £170 million in aid this year.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The Iranian-backed Houthi drone attacks killed top military personnel last week, and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes supported Mansur Hadi’s Government in Hodeidah and Taiz. As he has mentioned, the ceasefire talks have not resulted in anything. Eighty-five thousand children have been starved to death, and 80% of the population are in need of aid. Ten million people are about to starve in Yemen. Will the UK diplomats tabling a Security Council resolution—this week, we hope—warn both Iran and Saudi Arabia not to have their proxy war, which is killing children and innocent civilians, in Yemen?

The noble Lord is right to focus on the humanitarian situation. It is the worst in the world—a crisis. Ten million are one step away from famine, and there are massive cholera outbreaks. It is a dreadful situation. The drone attacks, and breaches he has referred to, continue to exercise concern. The UN redeployment mission there is headed by General Cammaert, who is experienced in these areas. He is working with the Government of Yemen and the Houthi forces to try to ensure that, initially in Hodeidah, there is peace and it holds, as that is where most of the supplies come through. It remains an immensely fragile situation, and the UK, as penholder at the UN Security Council on Yemen, will continue to do everything it can to support the peace efforts.

Does my noble friend recall that back in October the UN co-ordinator said that between 12 million and 13 million people would starve in Yemen? Since then, we have had the Stockholm agreement; can he update us on where that has got to? Has the airport in Sanaa been opened? Is there evidence that the Houthis have been manipulating the aid provided? Will the Hodeidah ceasefire hold, or is it breaking down? Are there other plans to reconvene that Stockholm agreement if the present one begins to be pulled apart?

Stockholm is a process, not an event, so it needs to be ongoing. The situation in Hodeidah remains fragile, but we believe there is still a commitment from all parties to keep it open. Yemen is in this predicament because it relies so heavily on imports of food and fuel to serve its population, through the Red Sea ports. The latest figures we have for December show that 81% of food and 89% of fuel managed to get through. That is a reason for cautious hope, but it remains fragile, and the consequences of this not holding are well stated.

My Lords, how far does the noble Lord think it is possible to reconcile deadlock in the UN and building on the mission’s developing role, such as keeping the Sanaa-Hodeidah road open and so on?

The way to do that is by seizing on every element of hope. Hope was represented in the outcome of Stockholm. That was then consolidated into a UN Security Council resolution that was not blocked by other P5 members. We have international agreement. There is reason for hope. We must put all efforts behind trying to secure it.

My Lords, as well as the huge famine—I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on what they are doing to respond to it—we are also seeing unfold before our eyes a huge medical crisis, with possibly the largest cholera epidemic in recorded history. Will the Minister update us on what plans and action are being taken with our partners to bring in medical help urgently to try to address this unparalleled, Dickensian level of preventable disease?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that this is the largest cholera epidemic. Again, one small, cautious reason for hope is that, from its peak, that outbreak has begun to reduce due to heroic and selfless actions by humanitarian workers on the ground and by organisations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, funded in part by the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the drone strike last week at the Al Anad air base showed the need to try to broaden the ceasefire agreement to cover the whole of the country, but this would require a resumption of the talks between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis. Does the Minister think that the likelihood of that happening has gone up since the US’s announcement in the last few hours that it will support the political process? Secondly, can the Minister assure me that the grain in the mills in and around Hodeidah will not be lying there unused much longer but get out to those starving families across the country?

Yes, I can give that assurance. That is what we want to see. The Red Sea mills were a crucial part of why we wanted the ceasefire to start. We are at small beginnings. The situation is catastrophic, but there is a glimmer of hope. We must all work towards it.