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Yemen: Humanitarian Aid Funding

Volume 803: debated on Thursday 4 June 2020

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the United Nations fundraising summit for Yemen on 2 June, what plans they have (1) to increase their humanitarian aid funding to Yemen, and (2) to make representations to other countries regarding similar funding increases.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to lead the humanitarian response in Yemen. This week, we agreed another £160 million—the third-largest global pledge—which will provide essential care for millions of Yemen’s most vulnerable people. Our ambitious support for Yemen since 2015 amounts to almost £1 billion. We have successfully used this leadership to encourage other countries to step up, and we will continue to do so. We will not rest when it comes to solving this conflict and its horrific humanitarian consequences.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, as he knows, the summit failed to reach its target by $1 billion. Last night, “Channel 4 News” showed how Covid has arrived in Aden and clearly has spread to the rest of the country. What are the Government doing to encourage others to alleviate it, in particular the United Arab Emirates, which is itself contributing to the hardship? Why has it not given money? What is he doing to ensure that the peace process gets back on track?

The noble Lord makes two important points. I assure him that we share the disappointment over the fact that the target for the summit was not met. He is indeed correct that countries such as the UAE did not announce any donations. However, we continue to lobby those countries to step up, as I said in my original Answer, and we will continue to do so bilaterally.

On the Covid response, the challenge is immense. Yemen was suffering prior to Covid, and it has made the situation worse. We are working closely with the likes of the World Health Organization, which has led the UN Covid-19 response in Yemen. The UN has set out an additional $180 million-budget to tackle Covid in Yemen. I also assure the noble Lord that we will continue to lobby partners for a lasting peace agreement to resolve the conflict, without which we will continue to have these crisis situations. We are very cognisant of our role as the UN Security Council penholder on Yemen.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to their contribution, which highlights the failures of other countries. I also welcome last night’s Channel 4 piece, which highlighted the tragedy that is developing in Yemen. Can the Minister say what role the international intervention on Covid in Yemen, and other organisations, can play in the tragic set of circumstances in Yemen?

I am very much aware of its work there, and it underlines the importance of a collaborative approach on the ground. Some 80% of the population of Yemen needs assistance, and that applies very much to the Covid issue. We also need the involvement of the different parties to the conflict to ensure that we can provide the healthcare support that is required to deal with the Covid challenge. DfID estimates that up to 100,000 people will be impacted directly by Covid, and the death rate will correspond to that. The issue is acute, and we need to act now.

My Lords, the Minister says that we need to act now, and the Government’s pledge of £160 million is most welcome. Can he confirm that that money will be paid immediately, so that the charities working in Yemen and the UN are able to continue their work without a gap?

I assure the noble Baroness that we are working on that, and I believe that very shortly we will be able to release the first tranche, which will be 30% of the funding. We are imploring other countries which have made pledges, not just at this conference but last year, to step up and make sure that the moneys are passed on to the UN, so that we can make a difference on the ground.

My Lords, with more than half the population facing death by starvation or cholera even before Covid, the suffering in Yemen has been made infinitely worse by the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the supply of western arms. Does the Minister agree that countries that fuel conflict should be obliged to bear the cost of looking after the victims?

The noble Lord raises an important point about countries in the region and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I was pleased that it participated in the conference, and it has also made a pledge of $500 million towards resolving the challenge of Covid in Yemen. We look forward to working constructively on the ground with Saudi Arabia and others in the region.

My Lords, the Minister referred to our role on the UN Security Council as a permanent member and to our particular role as a penholder on Yemen. Can he say why we have so far failed to broker a ceasefire to end this horrific war, and why we are continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, which is fuelling it?

My Lords, on the second point, the noble Baroness will be aware that we are not currently supplying any further arms. We are respecting the decision that was taken and we will continue to look at that situation carefully. On the question of resolving the conflict politically, we are working hard at the Security Council to get parties around the table. Most recently, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary also spoke with Martin Griffiths, the special envoy, to see what other efforts we can make bilaterally and, as the noble Baroness says, at the UN directly.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say what further efforts the UK can make in co-ordinating the efforts on the ground to alleviate the desperate suffering felt by so many Yemenis?

My Lords, I have already alluded to the fact that we are working through UN agencies, and in particular the World Health Organization. However, I implore all parties, including the Houthis, who control the major part of the distribution network, to ensure that we can provide the support and aid that is required across the country.

My Lords, already the United Nations has had to suspend payments for 10,000 front-line healthcare workers and halve the food rations for 8.5 million people. What leverage does the Minister think that he and the Government have to bridge this gap, given that UK aid is the same as that given by the US and the third-largest of all the funders in the world? Surely this gives us some increased leverage. Where does he assess that that potential lies?

My Lords, simply put, we need to work with other countries in the region, in particular those that have not yet pledged compared to last year—the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the UAE; Kuwait is another partner, and Oman has influence. We have strong bilateral relations and will continue to work to strengthen those further to reach both the target we have set on the humanitarian front and a lasting political settlement.

My Lords, the International Rescue Committee has warned that the case fatality ratio of 24.7% in Yemen is almost four times the global average. Therefore, in addition to the immediate funding aid, it is crucial that the people of Yemen also have access to any emerging vaccines and treatment. To that end, will the Minister detail what steps the Government are taking to promote equitable access?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, I am delighted that we, the United Kingdom, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, are hosting the Gavi conference today. We have made a commitment to vaccines: not just to finding a Covid vaccine but to ensuring equitable access to that vaccine once it is discovered. We have also put money behind this. We made a pledge equating to £330 million a year for the next five years for Gavi, which leads on vaccine research and will ultimately lead on equitable distribution once a vaccine is found—particularly in the most vulnerable parts of the world, such as Yemen.

My Lords, surely the toxic mixture in Yemen of bloody warfare, extreme poverty, malnutrition, cholera, climate change and religious fundamentalism, and now Covid-19, is also a chronic failure of foreign policy over a proxy battle between Saudi and Emirati-backed Sunni Salafis and Iranian-backed Shias, with al-Qaeda terrorists exploiting the chaos, and the West simply wringing its hands behind the Saudis instead of playing honest broker.

My Lords, the schism in Islam between Sunni and Shia Islam is well known. We do not believe that our foreign policy should focus on resolving that conflict; we believe that we can bring people to the table and ensure a lasting peace settlement. The noble Lord illustrates well the challenge that we face in Yemen, but that should not deter us from doing everything we can on the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts to bring resolution to a crisis that has gone on for far too long.

I want to follow up on the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. The Minister must agree that it is a cruel irony that these people, who are suffering from disease and starvation, continue to be attacked with weapons supplied by the United Kingdom to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Incidentally, similar companies are now supplying tear gas and rubber bullets to the United States. The Minister dealt briefly with this, but what review are the Government undertaking of who we supply arms to and what they do with them? It really is an embarrassment to all of us in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we have a very stringent regime when it comes to arms and arms supplies. It is perhaps one of the most robust regimes in the world and we continue to follow it. There are challenges at times, where we need to review. We have done just that when it comes to the supply of arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As I said earlier, those supplies currently stand suspended, respecting the decisions taken in the law courts. Equally, we continue to review our arms sales, not just to our partners around the world but continuously, to ensure that they meet the robust standards that we set.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. The Virtual Proceedings will now adjourn until a convenient point after 1 pm for the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. I thank the Minister and Members for their efficient dispatch of the questions today; we secured all Members’ questions.

Virtual Proceeding suspended.