July 27th, 2015
By Keith Vaz – M
As conflict in Yemen continues unabated, a humanitarian crisis continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate. More than 3,200 people have been killed – half of them civilians – and a further 15,000 injured. Today, more than 21million people – close to 80 per cent of the population – need urgent humanitarian assistance.
The constant fighting has taken a punishing toll on all Yemenis: with rising displacement, halting economic activity, border closures, outbreaks of disease, shutdown of basic services and shortages of food and fuel compounding daily life.
Air strikes, shelling and ground fighting persist, with almost daily damage to crucial civilian infrastructure reported, such as the limited number of water pumps. This has forced thousands of schools and health facilities to be shut down, and denying hundreds of thousands of children and their family’s access to education or basic health services.
Like in most conflicts, children are bearing the brunt of this crisis. Save the Children warns that millions now face a range of serious risks, including abuse, exploitation, violence and recruitment into armed groups. Thousands of children have witnessed family members killed and/or their homes destroyed.
Amidst this chaos, many relatives or dependents of British citizens are quite literally trapped in the country. Unable to escape due to the life-threatening risks of travel, these people are stuck, hoping for an end to the hostilities. The lucky ones managed to reach Djibouti, where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is able to help.
The Indian government launched an evacuation operation for their citizens at the start of this conflict. The British government should exhaust every possible option to evacuate our people.
Furthermore, the international community must make every effort to get humanitarian supplies to the desperate population. With an ongoing blockade, and many airports and sea ports closed, this is a significant challenge.
Prior to the crisis, Yemen imported 90% of its food, and with the blockade preventing many goods from entering, one can only wonder how long the international community will need to wait before we see a catastrophe of tragic proportions.
Already the prices of staple foods, fuel and medicine are rising sharply, along with increasingly limited availability. Six million people now face emergency level food insecurity while the prospect of famine threatens to become a devastating reality. This is simply unthinkable and unacceptable in the 21st Century.
As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, I know that many of my colleagues and their constituents are deeply concerned with this situation. I was born in Yemen, and have visited many times since, and it fills me with deep sadness that this beautiful country faces such unthinkable hardship.
Just last week a second humanitarian pause faulted within hours, reinforcing the critical need for a long-term, negotiated peaceful solution to the conflict. But with UN talks in Geneva last month ending in disaster, without either agreement on a ceasefire or a date for a second round of talks, a solution appears very far away.
Until such a solution is agreed, it is imperative that we act now to prevent millions of deaths. We cannot wait until both sides feel ready to negotiate to get humanitarian supplies to the population. Land, sea and air routes must be opened and emergency aid must be permitted to enter Yemen immediately.
The UK has a good track record in helping Yemen. The actions of our government were vital when Yemen was last in crisis, and we put the country on a path to democracy. We have already let enough progress be wasted.
I welcome the recent announcement of an additional £40million towards DfID’s humanitarian response in Yemen, bringing the total UK contribution to £55million this year. We now need to combine these efforts with a sustained diplomatic effort to forge a political solution.
Given the urgency of the crisis, the British government should lead a call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, and we must build an international coalition of like-minded countries to commit to providing emergency aid to Yemen’s population.
Yemen should be at the top of the diplomatic and international development agenda. Given Yemen’s strategic location on the Gulf, the existence of multiple terrorist organizations and an unprecedented humanitarian situation, this fight is one the international community simply cannot afford to lose.
Published in the Huffington Post.