The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8840th Meeting
United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Director Says Seven Years of War Leaving Physical, Emotional Scars on Young People Throughout Lifetimes
The crisis in Yemen is worsening on all levels, especially for children, United Nations experts warned the Security Council today, as delegates called on parties to uphold an urgent ceasefire and guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access to stave off famine.
“War overshadows everything,” said Martin Griffiths, briefing the Council for the first time in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The offensive in Ma’rib Province and clashes along nearly 50 other front lines have reportedly killed or injured more than 1,200 civilians, with collapsing public services depriving people of clean water, sanitation, education and health care, and cholera and COVID-19 spreading under those conditions.
With 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, he said a decimated economy is pushing the country to the brink. He stressed that 5 million people are one step away from succumbing to famine and the diseases that go with it, and 10 million more are right behind them. “Famine is not just a food problem, it’s a symptom of a much deeper collapse,” he warned, as people are starving not because there is no food, but because they cannot afford it.
He said incomes are disappearing, especially salaries for civil servants, who represent a quarter of the population. Paying them would “put money in people’s pockets” and keep services running. The collapsed Yemeni currency is especially disastrous for a country so dependent on imports, he said, emphasizing that a ceasefire will give desperate civilians a break and create the space needed to address the drivers of the crisis.
Echoing that call, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said 2.6 million children are now internally displaced, deprived of health care, education, sanitation and safe water. Yemen’s gross domestic product (GDP) has dropped 40 per cent since 2015, and despite the availability of food, 21 million people — including almost 11 million children — require humanitarian aid. Twenty million lack access to health services.
“Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares,” she said, with one child dying every 10 minutes from preventable causes. Parents struggle to provide enough food for their families. Children fortunate enough to attend school could be killed by a bullet, explosion or landmine — recruited into fighting or forced into marriage because their family is simply “out of options”.
The horrors of violence will leave children physically and emotionally scarred for their entire lives, she said. With hostilities escalating, she called on parties — and the Council itself — to place children first, granting UNICEF sustained humanitarian access everywhere, removing bureaucratic hurdles and opening the port of Hudaydah for food and fuel delivery. The international community must increase aid, she said, as the children of Yemen need a comprehensive and lasting peace.
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, lamented the lack of progress on the four-point plan presented to Yemeni parties: a nationwide ceasefire; reopening of Sana’a airport; the easing restrictions on fuel and commodity flows through Hudaydah port; and resumption of face-to-face political negotiations.
Explaining that the Houthis continue to condition resumption of their participation in the political process on the opening of Hudaydah ports and Sana’a airport, as well as on the ending of what they call the “aggression and occupation”, he noted that only three commercial fuel vessels were cleared to berth at Hudaydah since the beginning of July, with four more in holding. He urged the Government to allow entry of all essential commercial supplies without delay.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates noted that the Council and international community are essentially united in their stand on Yemen, with many calling for an immediate nationwide ceasefire and increased humanitarian assistance. Several raised the spectre of famine — and particular suffering of women and children — as overriding challenges, with the representative of India, Security Council President for August, expressing concern in his national capacity about the long‑lasting impacts on an entire generation of Yemenis. Niger’s delegate was among those urging parties to the conflict to acknowledge that civil war cannot be resolved by military might. They must show restraint and compassion for the sorely afflicted people. Noting that humanitarian plans are only financed to 47 per cent, he called on donor States to be more generous.
The representative of France meanwhile condemned the ongoing military offensives, reaffirming that Security Council resolutions must be respected, with Houthis engaging in good-faith dialogue with the new United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg. “We know what is needed to end the crisis,” she said. However, the Russian Federation’s delegate reminded that the Council’s role is to avoid taking sides and assist the Special Envoy, as any assistance must be unbiased and non-discriminatory.
Offering the national perspective, Yemen’s representative said his people cannot sustain any more suffering, with militias supported by Iran perpetuating their intransigence and arrogance in a “despicable and absurd war”. Calling attacks on Ma’rib “crimes against humanity”, targeting civilians with missiles and drones and exacerbating the suffering of 2 million internally displaced people, mostly women and children, he urged the international community to uphold its legal and ethical responsibilities.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Estonia, Norway, Mexico, United States, Viet Nam, Ireland, Tunisia, Kenya and China.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.