The relatively unknown conflict in Yemen continues unabated with a devastating toll on its people. It is a country I have an especial affinity with – I was born there, while my father was serving in the Trucial Oman Scouts. I have retained a strong interest in events in that part of the world, and I am concerned that in Yemen we have a crisis of huge proportions, but one that has passed almost unnoticed in the West.
There are over 21.1 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, including almost 10 million children.
As the aerial bombing, shelling and rocket attacks that have characterised this conflict intensify, civilians are increasingly under attack from both sides. Since April there have been more than 7,655 recorded casualties. Of these, 2,577 have been killed outright. At least 1,477 children have been killed or injured as a result of this conflict. The indiscriminate nature of these attacks have become more evident – from the tragic death of Fareed Shawkey, another attack on a wedding party, to the destruction of an MSF-supported health facility by Coalition airstrikes. These are violations of humanitarian law and must be addressed.
80% of the population is now reliant on aid. However, there are serious challenges in getting enough aid into the country and distributing to the affected populations. A de-facto blockade on shipping intended to prevent weapons from being smuggled in has had unintended consequences. Life-saving humanitarian and commercial supplies, including food, medicine and fuel have been prevented from entering the country. While imports are on the increase now, vital goods remain in perilously short supply. In the meantime the intensity of airstrikes and ground fighting, and restrictions on humanitarian access are hampering the distribution of aid.
Yemen imports 90% of its food, and prices of staple foods, fuel, and medicine have risen sharply due to the blockade. Hundreds of thousands of children are now at significant risk of death from malnutrition. Health facilities supported by Save the Children are reporting a 150% increase in cases of severe acute malnutrition, while the World Food Programme is warning that famine threatens to become a devastating reality.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, of which I am a member, published a report that calls on government to support a ceasefire and to intervene to get the blockade lifted. Humanitarian aid must be able to reach affected populations. Civilians must be protected by ensuring strict compliance with international and human rights law.
The United Kingdom has a long and proud history of supporting development in Yemen and of providing aid to people caught in the conflict, but more needs to be done here. The EU Foreign Affairs Council met on 16th November and it has adopted a clear line on achieving a peaceful, UN-led settlement. The UK is well placed to demand that the EU takes a stand and sends a signal to all parties that the conflict must end. In the meantime, if it cannot be stopped, it cannot be waged with total disregard for civilian lives.
Time is running out to stop a catastrophic loss of life - we must act now to protect civilians from violence and ensure that vital aid reaches those who desperately need it.