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IRC's Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy testifies at US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Yemen crisis

Amanda Catanzano's remarks

Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson, and Members of the Committee, thank you for convening this hearing and for your consistent efforts to put humanitarian issues at the center of US policy toward Yemen. 

And thank you to my colleagues for their insightful perspectives. It is an honor to be alongside remarkable humanitarian leaders like Radhya and Abdulwasea.

The IRC has been operating in Yemen since 2012. Our staff, nearly all Yemenis, deliver vital humanitarian assistance across the country, in both the North and South. Thanks in large part to generous US funding, every week IRC delivers healthcare to 13,000 people, treats over 500 children for malnutrition, and helps hundreds of women safely deliver their babies. We provide clean water, emergency cash, job training, and support for women and children who have been the victims of violence. 

While the humanitarian suffering in Yemen is tragic, it is not accidental. It is the predictable outcome of a war that has put civilians in the crosshairs. The conflict is complex. But, one truth is clear: the Yemeni people bear its brunt.  

While the crisis is protracted, it is not static. Yemenis are trapped in a hellish cycle. The international response treats the worst symptoms, but fails to address the conflict that drives the needs. Yemenis must confront new shocks with fewer resources, less resilience. And the cycle restarts. 

So, as we mark six years of conflict this month, the situation continues to unravel. 

Conflict is raging: Last year, airstrikes were up by over 80%  and the number of frontlines exploded from 33 to 49. Yemenis are more likely to be killed in their homes than in any other building. 18 health facilities came under fire despite the pandemic. And, amid a hunger crisis, an airstrike hit a farm or market roughly every 10 days. All shocking indictments of the warring parties’ disregard for international humanitarian law and a reminder that Yemenis are dealing not just with the war’s destructive legacy but its daily horrors. 

The economy is imploding: Yemen’s import dependency made it uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19’s disruptions to the global supply chains. Economic warfare by all parties further choked the import of  food, fuel, and medicines.  prices soared, the currency collapsed, purchasing power plummeted. Three in five Yemenis surveyed by the IRC could not afford basic items and many are resorting to child labor and child marriage to ease expenses. 

Humanitarian action is constrained: While there were improvements last year, bureaucratic challenges - not conflict - accounted for over 90% of access incidents, including delays in program approvals and travel permits. But despite these challenges, the biggest constraint to our work is the severe lack of funding, which has forced humanitarians to scale back in the face of spiraling need.

The result - the world's worst humanitarian crisis is on track for its worst year yet. Famine alarms are ringing again. Louder than ever, as half of all Yemenis are already going hungry. Half of all Yemeni children under 5 are already severely malnourished. 

Preventing famine must be an urgent priority. To this end, the U.S. should lift the USAID suspension on humanitarian assistance in the North - both to free up much needed funding and to bolster U.S. efforts to push others to fill the response’s dangerously empty coffers. To ensure aid gets to those most in need, the U.S. should lead multilateral efforts to ease bureaucratic obstacles in the North and South. 

But if the efforts end there, we will be back here in two or three years’ time making similar pleas. 

We are grateful for the sustained Congressional pressure that has helped drive US policy away from a failed war strategy. We applaud the Biden administration’s steps to end support for offensive operations, pause arm sales, and appoint an envoy. We urge the US to build on this momentum.  

First, the U.S. should throw its full diplomatic weight behind the UN Special Envoy’s efforts to secure a nationwide ceasefire.  A halt to the fighting will protect civilians, facilitate delivery of aid, and help build the confidence needed for a meaningful political process. 

Second, Yemenis need affordable food and other staples now. Humanitarians cannot replace a functioning economy. The US should press for the reopening of air and sea ports and other steps necessary to facilitate import flows and stabilize the currency.   

Finally, a political settlement is the only way to end Yemen’s humanitarian nightmare. Beyond the ceasefire, the U.S. should focus diplomatic energy on an inclusive, forward-looking political process aimed at a durable peace agreement.

With these steps, the U.S. can help break the cycle; can keep Yemenis alive AND finally give them hope for a better future.  

I offer my sincere thanks to the Subcommittee for its commitment to Yemen and Yemenis. 

And I thank you for this opportunity to share the challenges facing IRC and our Yemeni clients.

I look forward to answering your questions. 

-Amanda Catanzano, IRC's Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, International Rescue Committee 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.