Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Arria-Formula Meeting on Yemen Humanitarian Issues

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
August 21, 2017


Thank you very much, Fode, for convening this important Arria meeting on the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Thank you to Stephen for giving us the latest information about the situation on the ground. And a special thanks to Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeea for joining us once again to speak about Yemen and for sharing his perspectives. We appreciate your willingness, Dr. Al-Rabeea, to engage this Council on how to respond to Yemen’s humanitarian needs.

There should be no doubt that all parties in Yemen need to take immediate steps to address Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe. By numbers of people affected, Yemen has the potential to be the worst humanitarian crisis of all the countries on this Security Council’s agenda. Nearly 21 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. According to UN statistics, Yemen has the largest number of people on the brink of famine anywhere in the world. At the same time, Yemen has been hit with the world’s largest outbreak of cholera, with over 500,000 suspected cases and counting.

In the year 2017, these crises are preventable. Food can be delivered to the hungry. Treatments for cholera can be administered to help the sick. But, humanitarian organizations need two things to succeed: funding and access.

Even as the scale of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis gets worse, funding has not kept pace. The nearly $2.43 billion 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen is just 41 percent funded. International donors must step up to deliver. In particular, the United States urges all countries that pledged funds at the Geneva conference in April to follow through with their funding as quickly as possible.

For our part, the United States is the largest donor to the UN’s Yemen appeal. Since last fall, we have contributed $467 million in aid. Dr. Al-Rabeea, the United States appreciates Saudi Arabia’s generous pledges of humanitarian aid, and we look to Saudi Arabia to help lead on this front.

But all the funding in the world will not be enough if life-saving goods cannot reach Yemenis in need. At the most basic level, all parties need to respect the need for unfettered humanitarian access. That means ships carrying essential imports and humanitarian aid must be able to reach Yemen’s ports and offload their cargo. When a ship is cleared by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism, that ship should be allowed to proceed to port.

Inside Yemen, humanitarian agencies must be able to deliver goods without interference, and without fear that their goods will be looted. The United States deplores recent reports of looting and diversion of aid in areas controlled by the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Salih. Houthi/Salih forces must not tamper with deliveries of aid or try to keep these convoys from reaching their destinations. Members of this Security Council need to hold the parties accountable for preserving access, and use our connections to the parties to preserve humanitarian space in Yemen.

There are other tangible steps we can take to improve access. The United States welcomes Saudi Arabia’s recent announcement of funding for cranes at the Aden, Mukalla, and Mokha ports. This is an important step forward. But, we also need to see additional cranes installed at Hudaydah urgently to expand that port’s capacity. As the UN has stressed, the most people in need are in northern Yemen, and the UN sees no alternative to serving these people except for Hudaydah.

In addition, the parties should cooperate to re-open Sana’a Airport, which would allow Yemenis to access badly-needed medical treatment abroad. Re-opening the airport should also facilitate access for humanitarian staff, NGO workers, and journalists, each of whom plays an important role in shaping the international response to the Yemen conflict.

Finally, Yemen’s humanitarian response can only go so far when the country’s economy has collapsed. The United States calls on the parties to this conflict to explore ways to restore the functioning of Yemen’s Central Bank and essential public services. There should be an agreement on how the revenues of the Yemeni state can be used in a transparent fashion to restart public sector salaries.

Of course, absent a political solution to the conflict, all of these humanitarian steps are short-term fixes. The scale of Yemen’s suffering should inspire all of us on this Council to work harder to support UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s efforts to reinvigorate political talks. As a first step, the UN Special Envoy has put forward a credible plan to address the management of Hudaydah port. This proposal could be a key confidence-building measure that paves the way for broader political talks and a ceasefire. We urge the parties to immediately engage the UN on this Hudaydah initiative. This is both a humanitarian and a political imperative, and there is no time to waste.

Let me conclude by taking a moment to pay tribute to the immense sacrifices that humanitarian workers on the ground have made in Yemen. The United States greatly appreciates the efforts of UN Resident Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick and his team, along with the many other aid organizations on the ground in Yemen. These officials continue to find ways to deliver life-saving interventions despite a maze of bureaucratic obstructions and intense fighting along the frontlines. We as a Security Council must do what we can to give the UN and other humanitarian groups the space they need to get their jobs done. Thank you.