5.Despite the seriousness of the situation, until very recently Yemen was a forgotten crisis, often overlooked because of events elsewhere in the Middle East. But the intensity and severity of the crisis merit the international community’s attention. We were told that Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in August 2015 that Yemen, after five months of conflict, looked like Syria after five years. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, has warned “We do not need this to last the way that Syria has lasted because then it becomes embedded and something much more terminal.” We heard about the important role DFID has played, including in raising awareness of the situation in Yemen. Josephine Hutton of Oxfam told us:
“I would like to add raising the profile of the crisis. We all know that Yemen is one of the least understood of our most desperate humanitarian crises. We are very grateful that the UK Government takes such an interested role, and hope to continue to see the kind of work that they have done, asking for side meetings at key UN events, pushing with other donors and other governments.”
6.Much of the evidence we have received credited DFID for its humanitarian leadership, and timely and flexible response. Save the Children stated in written evidence:
“The UK Government—and in particular DFID—should be credited for its response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. DFID was quick to re-align existing programmes and its management of grants has been flexible and responsive. Its commitment of an additional £75 million in emergency aid in 2015 represents significant contribution to the response.”
DFID realigned its programmes in March 2015 to focus on meeting humanitarian needs. In written evidence UNICEF stated:
“This flexibility in transferring funds from the development work to the emergency work has enabled agencies, such as UNICEF, to maintain and continue to deliver life-saving nutrition services to children throughout the country. The initial flexibility in use of funds was crucial in helping UNICEF launch an immediate and successful response.”
7.It is clear that support from DFID has been essential for humanitarian agencies scaling up their response. In written evidence Oxfam highlighted the scale of DFID’s support and its focus on agencies on the ground:
“DFID is to be commended for its overall timely humanitarian response. Adding to this DFID has proactively supported the relief efforts of UN agencies and humanitarian organisations working on the ground, as a donor it is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian response… DFID has also worked to improve the operational performance and coordination of humanitarian actors in Yemen.”
8.DFID is the fourth largest donor to the crisis, having recently committed a further £10 million in assistance, bringing DFID’s funding to £85 million. Save the Children told us that “the support of DFID has been really profound and fundamental. Many other donor countries do not have the level of engagement, interest, analysis and awareness.” However, the UN Appeal for 2015 was only 56% funded, despite efforts by the Secretary of State to improve donor engagement with the Yemen crisis by holding a side meeting at the UN General Assembly in 28 September 2015. Grant Pritchard of Save the Children told us:
“It is not to say that DFID has not been extremely generous, and others have said this already, but we would like to see them take more of a leadership role in galvanising donor support internationally. Last year, the UN fund was just 54% funded, I think, so it would be good if DFID could take a leading role and get more donor interest, in terms of the humanitarian response.”
9.The UN has recently launched its 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan requesting $1.8 billion to assist over 13 million people. The UK will have an important role in encouraging other donors to both pledge and deliver the required funding. We heard from DFID Minister Desmond Swayne that “it is not always a question of what more Britain can do; it is often a question of what more Britain can do to get other people to do things.” Other witnesses suggested that “the UK is in a strong position to catalyse increased funding from a greater diversity of donors through the hosting of an international donor conference”. The Minister told us that DFID will shortly be running a series of meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen which we warmly welcome, and return to, later in this report.
10.DFID has been instrumental in supporting and facilitating the humanitarian relief effort through a timely and flexible response. We commend the Department for its commitment to date towards funding the humanitarian crisis in the Yemen and for its work in raising the profile of this crisis among donors. However, much more needs to be done. We are concerned that other countries are not playing their part. It is vital that other donors, in addition to the UK, rapidly provide necessary funds to support the UN’s $1.8 billion 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan. We urge DFID to play an even stronger leadership role in order to secure these vital resources, both by substantially increasing its own funding contribution and by galvanising other donors to do the same. We welcome the proposed meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen and in addition we recommend that DFID consider hosting and international donor conference to highlight the urgent need for this support, similar to the Supporting Syria Conference 2016 which commendably brought together high level representatives from donors around the world and secured significant funding pledges.
11.We have received evidence describing Yemen as a civilian protection crisis. Of Yemen’s 26 million people: 21.2 million are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including 14.4 million people struggling to find enough food, of whom 7.6 million are severely food insecure. 19.4 million people lack access to clean water and sanitation, 14.1 million lack adequate healthcare, and at least 2.7 million are displaced within Yemen or have fled to neighbouring countries. Reports of human rights violations have soared, with an average of 41 reports every day as of January 2016. UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, has called these numbers “staggering” and simply “beyond the humanitarian community’s current capacity to respond.” According to Amnesty International they illustrate a “flagrant failure to take sufficient precautions to avoid civilian loss of life as required by IHL.”
12.Children are amongst the hardest hit by the conflict. As Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, told us:
“We have recorded 1,933 children who have been killed or injured during the last year…762 children have been recruited, which is a vast underestimate because it is difficult to verify recruitment of children to armed groups. 88 schools have been attacked, destroyed, damaged, or used, and we estimate that 10,000 children under five who would not otherwise have fallen ill will die as an indirect consequence of the conflict, from issues like measles, diarrhoea, etc.”
The UN estimates that eight children are being killed or maimed every day. Nearly half of the 21.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance are children. Grant Pritchard from Save the Children told us that the psychological effects of the crisis are already apparent amongst children, who “had shown a great deal more violent tendencies as a consequence of that trauma, both in terms of fighting with other children but also teachers, which frankly in Yemen is quite unheard of.”
13.The education system in Yemen was underdeveloped before the crisis. Since mid-March 2015, an additional 1.8 million children have not been attending school, bringing the total number to more than 3.4 million. This amounts to 47 per cent of Yemen’s school aged children. Large numbers of university students are similarly missing out on their studies. We were told that the education cluster in the 2015 UN Response Plan was “critically underfunded (at just over 5%)”. This creates a serious risk of millions missing out on an education, creating another “lost generation” with significant long-term consequences for Yemen.
14.We are gravely concerned about the toll the conflict in Yemen is having on children and young people. Not only are they suffering from deaths and injuries, and severe food insecurity, but many have lost their schools and many have been recruited to armed groups. We fear the psychological effects of witnessing traumatic events at a young age will haunt them for many years to come. Since 26 March 2015, UNICEF has monitored, verified and documented over 1,000 grave violations against children in Yemen. Protecting children and getting them back into education must be a priority for the humanitarian response. We heard evidence that “there is not enough focus on the displaced and the living conditions of the displaced are appalling” and there are many internally displaced people who have now moved to areas “more or less untouched through this conflict” where emergency education may be possible. The UK has a good track record in supporting emergency education, for example for Syrian refugee children through the No Lost Generation Initiative. Urgent action is needed to ensure there is not a lost generation of Yemeni children and we expect this to be a priority at the upcoming DFID-led meetings on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen. At the same time we urge DFID to explore with other humanitarian actors what provision for emergency education could be made for displaced children in Yemen now.
15.The UN has described the health system as “in a state of collapse in Yemen.” The system was significantly strained prior to the current conflict with only 3 doctors per 10,000 people as of 2010. The conflict has left nearly 14.1 million people in need of assistance to access healthcare. But as the need increases, the availability of health services is declining. As of mid-October 2015, nearly 600 health facilities had stopped functioning, including 69 damaged or destroyed by the conflict. Additionally, 27 ambulances had been hijacked, 8 health workers killed and 20 injured. Medical facilities have a protected status under IHL. The evidence we have heard about the destruction of health facilities raises serious questions as to whether these laws are being observed.
16.Yemen relies on imports for all of its medical supplies. The restrictions on imports have severely eroded the health sector’s capacity to import vital medicines, as well as the fuel to transport them and to power hospital generators. DFID has been instrumental in negotiating access for imports, which we welcome (see paragraph 24). However, the rapid damage to the health system that is ongoing, will take a long time to repair. Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, told us, “far more children will die because of disease than they will of bombs and bullets. It is the long-term destruction of the health system that will affect us for 10 to 20 years.” This was echoed by a health professional from the Yemeni diaspora who told us that the fragility of the health system is most starkly illustrated by the recent outbreaks of dengue fever and measles. He also talked of fears of an outbreak of polio, which was eradicated in 2006, because of the lack of vaccinations. He informed us that many medical supplies are only available, if at all, on the black market at vastly inflated prices. A key priority for UNICEF is to support the existing health infrastructure and health workers who are delivering services in incredibly insecure conditions. Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, highlighted that:
“If [the health system] is destroyed through this conflict, you will be looking at long-term destruction of the society that will lead to further disease, years after the war is completed. It is very important that, when we look at how we scale up, one of the aspects should be support to encourage the neutral social services to do the job. By “encourage”, I mean finance them, because they can deliver anywhere. Keep that going, because we will need it in future.”
17.It is very worrying that access to adequate healthcare is decreasing as a result of damage to facilities from attacks, a lack of staff, and a lack of medicines. We remain concerned that the health care system in Yemen will not survive the conflict without further support, the consequences of which will be felt for years beyond the end of the current conflict. As we noted in our report on Ebola: Responses to a public health emergency, a fragile and inadequate health system creates systemic vulnerability. DFID’s expertise in health systems strengthening could make a positive contribution to the recovery effort when the time comes. Support for the health care system should form part of the agenda for the meetings DFID is hosting on the recovery and reconstruction of Yemen and in the immediate term DFID should look specifically at how it can work with other humanitarian actors to provide, harness and facilitate the funding and provision of emergency medical supplies which are urgently needed by civilians, as a result of the conflict.
18.While the health system is collapsing, needs in Yemen are increasing. 14.4 million people are now food insecure. The UN estimates that 3 million people require treatment or preventive services for malnutrition. About 320,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition, meaning they are nine times likelier to die than their peers. As Josephine Hutton from Oxfam told us:
“If food, and access to food, remains the biggest issue that most populations have, the rest of what you are trying to do will have limited impact.”
19.In addition, 19.4 million people in Yemen require assistance to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation, of whom 9.8 million are in need as a direct result of the conflict. Commercial water trucks—the main source of water for many—are reportedly between two and four times more expensive and are in some cases unable to enter affected areas due to insecurity or interference by parties to the conflict. We heard from Oxfam that water has always been a primary crisis issue for Yemen, which is estimated to be the seventh most water-scarce country in the world. Josephine Hutton told us:
“It is not getting any better; it is getting worse. There is huge dependency on water trucking and the cost of water trucking, which is obviously not a sustainable solution. In terms of the kinds of interventions we need to look at, we need to be trying to focus more on a structured provision of water in key areas, because that is obviously the number one public health concern.”
20.We heard that DFID’s support has been vital to addressing these public health concerns. Within the deteriorating humanitarian context, DFID identified food, nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as top priority sectors which were underfunded and had large scale needs. In September 2015 DFID committed additional aid specifically targeting these sectors. Julian Harneis, told us:
“First, I would like to say that the support of DFID has been absolutely essential to maintaining a very large nutrition programme in Yemen and other services, WASH and health. Without that, we would not have been able to provide the significant scale of assistance that we are providing today.”
21.We welcome DFID’s support for nutrition, water and sanitation programmes, which has been fundamental for maintaining and delivering these vital and life-saving services. However, much more needs to be done in what is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world and we urge DFID to work with others to scale up the provision of these resources to meet immediate need.
22.Yemen is crucially dependent on imports, relying on external sources for 70 per cent of its fuel, 90 per cent of its food and 100 per cent of its medical supplies. Five days after the start of the aerial campaign, Saudi-led naval forces imposed import restrictions on Yemen’s ports in order to inspect all ships for arms. Whilst there is clearly a series of factors leading to challenges with access to humanitarian supplies, Save the Children told us that the “de facto air and naval blockade imposed by the coalition has been the single largest contributor to the current humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.” Import restrictions have been a major driver of shortages and rising prices of basic commodities, crippling the economy. In September 2015 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that commercial fuel imports fell to just 1 per cent of monthly requirements. According to the UN World Food Programme, in the second half of November 2015, wheat flour prices were 53 per cent higher and diesel prices 286 per cent higher than pre-crisis levels. As Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, noted:
“The economy has imploded. Imports have increased [back] to about 60% of those pre-war, but Yemen was a country that depended heavily on remittances from abroad. The economy is disappearing. Even if you have stuff in shops, who can afford it? Who can afford to pay for health services? In that context, the needs of the population become so vast that no humanitarian organisation or group of humanitarian organisations can ever hope to cover this situation.”
23.Evidence to us has described DFID’s “tremendous role in advocating for humanitarian access, including the opening of ports [and] establishing the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism.” The number of ships entering Yemen did begin to improve from October 2015. DFID is providing £1.42 million for the Verification and Inspection Mechanism which should speed up inspections and improve the level of commercial imports while ensuring that illicit goods do not enter Yemen. Save the Children told us that DFID’s “efforts to ensure the resumption of imports of vital supplies into the country are beginning to show signs of impact.”
24.We applaud DFID for its leadership role in improving humanitarian access via port into the country and welcome its focus on interventions that support economic redevelopment. These should offer the prospect of a sustainable means of reducing some of these huge humanitarian needs. We encourage DFID to continue to negotiate at a high level to ensure support for the Verification and Inspection Mechanism and a smoother flow of commercial goods into the country.
25.The Yemeni diaspora told us that aid alone could not cater for the whole country, and that there needed to be commercial activity to provide a more sustainable solution in the longer term. Particular concern was expressed about the near collapse of the banking sector, which is vital to protect what commercial activity currently remains within Yemen, and the jobs and livelihoods which go with it. The UN Development Programme reported in August 2015 that the conflict was paralysing economic activity in Yemen. At that point, it recorded that 26% of businesses had closed since mid-March 2015. The diaspora representatives told us that the number was much higher, between twice and three times that figure, with a commensurate number of private sector workers losing their jobs accordingly. At the same time as unemployment is rising, and children and students are out of education, they told us that recruitment to extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and Daesh has grown. We heard that people, particularly young people, are joining these groups because they can offer their families an income when government and the private sector cannot, not because people agree with their ideologies.
26.We note that the level of need in Yemen is growing to such a level that there are serious concerns that this cannot be met by humanitarian assistance alone. We therefore support DFID’s work to revitalise the private sector. The importance of protecting Yemen’s economy, including a functioning banking system, cannot be emphasised enough if there is to be hope of Yemenis rebuilding their lives after the conflict, and to counter the growth of extremist groups. We urge not only DFID but also Ministers in other Government departments, including Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to actively prioritise work on this issue. Conflict resolution must also remain a key priority for all.
27.Most evidence to us suggested that access is one of the greatest challenges for humanitarian actors in Yemen. We heard that the Houthis are inconsistent in allowing access for humanitarian goods and personnel, and that any movement can require long and protracted negotiations with parties on the ground. Grant Pritchard from Save the Children described a “shrinking humanitarian space”:
“There are daily notifications of movements so, if we want to go and do food distribution, we have to inform the authorities and get prior authority to do that, on a daily basis. These kind of challenges just add to the bureaucracy, I suppose. They also cost money—money that should be going to our beneficiaries rather than elsewhere—and just make what is already an extremely challenging context that bit more challenging.”
28.We were told that the most challenging town to reach is Taiz, which has been described by the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, as a “city under virtual siege”, with Houthi militants blocking food and medical supplies entering, and humanitarian agencies denied access to the besieged population. The UN World Food Programme has classified Taiz as one of 10 governorates—out of Yemen’s 22 governorates—in the grip of severe food insecurity at ‘Emergency’ level—one step below famine on the five-point Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale.
29.We heard directly from the Yemeni diaspora community in the UK about the dire situation in Taiz. We were told that civilians trying to take water into Taiz had been arrested and tortured. There is one crossing for access in and out of the city, across which families are only allowed to bring in one kilo of food per day. There are also restrictions on deliveries to hospitals and no schools are open. One diaspora representative we spoke to highlighted a loss of hope on the part of the local population: he had been in contact with friends and family in Taiz who told him that they were “waiting to see when they would die”. Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, confirmed the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Taiz:
“Obviously being in Taiz is miserable. It is the second highest location for killing and maiming of children in the country. There are only three health facilities out of 22 that are functioning and all three hospitals have been heavily damaged in shelling.”
30.Julien Harneis reported that he had entered Taiz as part of a high-level UN mission on 22 January 2016. Mr Harneis noted that the UN has programmes in Taiz and is delivering aid there, and with “appropriate negotiations and discussions with local partners and the local de facto authorites” there is access to the city. Nevertheless, it is clear that access to Taiz is severely restricted. The UN mission in January was the first UN-led mission into Taiz, which had been under siege for the previous seven months. It has also been reported that Médecins Sans Frontières managed to deliver aid to the city in January after 5 months of negotiations. The International Committee for the Red Cross entered Taiz in February for the first time since August 2015.
31.As well as evidence of severe access limitations in Taiz city, there was evidence of a broad reach of humanitarian assistance, for example, in areas where large volumes of internally displaced people are gathered. Humanitarian agencies can do much more in these areas, which is echoed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which has said that “access continues to pose a serious challenge to humanitarian operations … However, partners are able to reach almost all communities—albeit with occasional delays due to insecurity or interference by parties to the conflict.” The Minister told us that DFID’s pledge of £85 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen was proportionate to what can be spent by the Department’s partners in Yemen because of the challenges of access. However, UNICEF told us that if there was more funding, they could get it to the people who need it. Julien Harneis, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, when asked if there was more aid funding, could the people who need it be reached with it, replied:
“Yes, absolutely. The other thing about Taiz that one needs to bear in mind is that the population of Taiz city is not in Taiz city anymore. They have not been waiting around to get shot at. There is four, five or maybe six times the population of Taiz city outside of the enclave, in the governorate of Taiz and the governorate of Ibb, which is 100 kilometres away. We can assist the population. We need to do much more for the displaced in those areas. What is very impressive about Ibb city is that the local religious leaders there have signed an agreement between themselves that peace will be maintained in Ibb, so that it can be a place where civilian populations can move to and receive assistance in a safer environment. Ibb remains more or less untouched through this conflict. There is not enough focus on the displaced, and the living conditions of the displaced are appalling. In Ibb city, I have seen classrooms that have been taken over by displaced people, in which 40 people are living in a room half the size of this. The head height is also a bit less. This is in a functioning school. You have a girl’s school where half the classroom is occupied by 40 people. We need to do much more for the displaced of Taiz city.”
32.We recognise that DFID does not have a “bottomless bag” and must ensure that assistance can get through and make a difference. Security and safety of humanitarian actors must also be a consideration. The fact that the security situation can be an obstacle to providing more funding for humanitarian assistance, and impacts on DFID’s spending decisions, demonstrates the extent to which the ongoing conflict is undermining the relief effort. However, we urge DFID to consider the evidence we have heard that humanitarian agencies would be able to channel more assistance now, if available, to those in need, even within the very challenging constraints on humanitarian access.
33.The deteriorating security situation in Yemen puts humanitarian organisations in a very difficult situation, whereby they cannot guarantee the safety of their staff or those they are caring for. Hospitals and medical facilities have traditionally been a safe haven for civilians and for humanitarian staff in areas of conflict but in Yemen they can no longer offer that protection. Three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facilities have been struck within three months. MSF has talked of a total disregard for the rules of war:
“Nothing has been spared—not even hospitals, even though medical facilities are explicitly protected by international humanitarian law.”
We heard that some aid workers in Yemen face operating in an almost unprecedented environment of instability and danger, including the daily threat of airstrikes and shelling. Josephine Hutton from Oxfam described the bombing she had witnessed in Sana’a:
“To feel just the proximity in an incredibly dense urban area of very large munitions exploding is something I have not experienced anywhere else in my career.”
34.DFID Minister Desmond Swayne told us that the security situation in Yemen was a reason for not increasing DFID support to the country:
“Look at what has happened to Médecins Sans Frontières and the number of staff that they have lost, who have been killed. These things clearly have an impact on what we could do.”
The Minister’s comments underline the importance of addressing the insecurity of the operating environment for humanitarian actors. Whilst we accept that DFID has withdrawn its own staff from Yemen for safety reasons, and has been hesitant to channel more resources toward the humanitarian relief effort because of the risks of operating in what it recognises is a dangerous environment, even for aid workers who should be protected by IHL. There are several decades-long experienced humanitarian actors working in the region, including Save the Children, Oxfam, and UNICEF, who continue to have staff working there and whose evidence to us indicated that they could administer and deliver greater amounts of humanitarian aid within the country if it were made available.
35.Evidence to us further suggested that delivery of humanitarian assistance may be made more difficult because of the perception that Western humanitarian donor countries also support parties to the conflict. Josephine Hutton on Oxfam told us:
“We have to constantly explain that our position is impartial: to try to assist those most in need and those who are vulnerable. In a place like Yemen, people are very politically motivated and, when things are desperate and when people are choosing measures to try to influence the outcome of the conflict in one direction, they will ask hard questions and they have started asking them of us, maybe not directly at a headquarters level but more to our staff themselves, who face the greatest risk in the field.”
36.We remain gravely concerned by the security situation in Yemen, which threatens the safety of humanitarian staff and limits the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to those most in need of assistance. All parties to the conflict must respect the civilian and humanitarian spaces protected under IHL, where such areas do exist, such as where internally displaced people are gathered. We are encouraged by the Foreign Secretary’s response to our letter, which states that the UK Government is working closely with the UN, the Coalition and the Government of Yemen on peace talks, and regularly raises the importance of compliance with IHL with the Saudi Government, Coalition members, and the Houthis. The Government should put pressure on all parties to the conflict and other international actors to comply with their obligations under international law and take all possible measures to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian agencies safe spaces in which to operate.
13 Dr Sarah Phillips para 6
16 See Oxfam para 15, UNICEF , Save the Children para 1.2
17 Save the Children para 1.2
20 Oxfam paras 3 and 15
21 , UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 16 February 2016
24 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, , (January 2016), p 5
26 Save the Children para 2.6
29 See Save the Children para 1.5, Médecins Sans Frontières para 6, UNICEF
32 , Amnesty International, 7 October 2015
35 Save the Children para 2.1
38 Annex 1
39 Save the Children para 2.5
48 Annex 1
57 Department for International Development para 27
60 Save the Children para 2.18
62 , World Food Programme, 30 November 2015
64 Oxfam para 15
65 Department for International Development para 16
66 Save the Children para 1.2
67 Annex 1
68 , UN Development Programme, 16 November 2015
69 Annex 1
70 See Oxfam para 28, Save the Children paras 2.18-2.24, Médecins Sans Frontières para 11
74 Annex 1
83 , Médecins Sans Frontières, 25 January 2016
84 , Médecins Sans Frontières, 25 January 2016
88 Appendix 3
29 April 2016