United Nations, April 16: A plan to withdraw forces from front lines in and around the key Yemeni port of Hudaydah has been accepted by pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels, the UN Special Envoy to the country has told the Security Council, warning however that war shows “no sign of abating” elsewhere.
The envoy, Martin Griffiths, said that after a “long and difficult process” agreeing the details of a UN-backed plan, which the warring parties signed up to in Sweden last December to de-escalate fighting around Hudaydah, as the start of a process to hopefully end the fighting nationwide, “both parties have now accepted the detailed redeployment plan for phase one”, and the UN was now “moving with all speed towards resolving the final outstanding issues”.
He said the breakthrough would mark the “first voluntary withdrawals of forces in this long conflict”, noting that violence had “significantly reduced” around the Red Sea port city, which is the entry point for the vast majority of aid and goods for the whole country, since the fragile ceasefire began.
Griffiths told Council members he was committed to helping facilitate a political solution to end the war: “My primary responsibility in the next few weeks will be to winnow down differences between the parties so that when they meet they can, in all efficiency, be asked to answer precise questions about the nature of the arrangements to end the war”, he said.
“I seek the support of this Council for this approach. I ask you to put your faith in the desperate need for peace which is the daily prayer of the millions of Yemenis who still believe in its prospect.
UN Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, was next to brief the chamber, also via video-link, picking up Martin Griffith’s passionate plea for the international community to act now, to save countless Yemeni lives.
He reiterated his earlier call for a nationwide ceasefire, adding that “all the men with guns and bombs need to stop the violence. We again remind the parties that international humanitarian law binds them in all locations and at all times.”
But bullets are not the only risk to life and limb he warned, citing that so far this year, 200,000 suspected cases of deadly cholera had been reported, almost three times the same period last year.
“We see the consequences of the destruction of the health system elsewhere too. More than 3,300 cases of diphtheria have been reported since 2018 – the first outbreak in Yemen since 1982. Earlier this year, new measles cases surged to nearly twice the levels reported at the same time in 2018”.
Looming over everything, the risk of famine continues, he warned, saying that the World Food Programme (WFP) was upping the reach of support for the world’s largest aid operation, from nine million a month, to 12 million “in the coming months”.
Access to the vulnerable remains a key challenge he said, making clear that grain that could feed 3.7 million hungry Yemenis in Hudaydah’s Red Sea Mills, remained trapped due to conflict. Secondly, money was running out to save lives, he said, with only $267 million received so far, out of $2.6 billion pledged.
WHO, he said, “projects that 60 per cent of diarrhoea treatment centres could close in the coming weeks, and services at 50 per cent of secondary care facilities, could be disrupted.”
“We remain keenly aware that a sustainable peace – as Martin has said many times – would be the most effective remedy for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen”, Lowcock concluded. “Without peace, we will simply go on treating the symptoms of this crisis, instead addressing the cause.”
“Let me summarize. Violence has again increased. The relief operation is running out of money. Barring changes, the end is nigh.”
The UN’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, focussed on how Yemen’s most vulnerable had borne the brunt of war with a “staggering” figure of more than 3,000 children “verified as recruited and used”, while more than 7,500 were killed and maimed, with over 800 cases of humanitarian access denied, during nearly five years of fighting.
Almost half of those killed and maimed, she said, were victims of airstrikes, for which the Saudi-led coalition supporting the Government, “bears the main responsibility”.
On the ground however, “the Houthis were responsible for the majority” of casualties, predominantly through shelling, mortar and small arms fire.
Gamba said she had secured agreements with both warring parties during her time in office, to strengthen the protection of child lives, and to cut down on the recruitment of children as part of the war effort.
“The violence Yemeni children have been subjected to – and still are – is simply unacceptable. I urge all parties to the conflict to take immediate measures to ensure that their military operations are conducted in full compliance with international law, including through respecting the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.”
She too, called on the international community to prioritize funding for Yemen, “in order to provide children with a chance to survive, learn, and construct the Yemen of the future”.
The Stockholm Agreement had provided hope, “yet as fighting continues and intensifies in parts of the country”, said the Special Representative, “I urge the parties to swiftly implement the commitments made. The tragedy of Yemeni children and their role in the Yemen of tomorrow emphasizes the need to put them at the heart of the peace process.