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Press Release

Yemen: Saudi “aid” plan is war tactic

  • Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with 22.2 million in need of assistance, and millions on the brink of famine.
  • The Saudi-Led Coalition’s (SLC) humanitarian aid package ignores the most pressing humanitarian priorities and instead focuses on consolidating control over access and transit points.
  • The International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on the Saudis and the international community to permanently and completely lift the blockade on Red Sea ports without delay.

The Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO), announced on January 22, 2018, is neither comprehensive, nor reflective of clear, shared humanitarian priorities, the International Rescue Committee said today. The YCHO politicizes aid by attempting to consolidate control over access and transit points. Rather than endorsing a parallel plan, which was created without broad input from humanitarian actors, the Saudi Led Coalition (SLC) and its supporters, notably the US and UK, should work to ensure the full implementation of the existing UN humanitarian response plan. 

“The name in itself is misleading: it is neither comprehensive, nor particularly humanitarian,” said Amanda Catanzano, senior policy and advocacy director at the International Rescue Committee. “The Saudi-led coalition is offering to fund a response to address the impact of a crisis it helped to create. The acute crisis in Yemen needs more than what appears to be a logistical operations plan, with token gestures of humanitarian aid.”

With the third anniversary of the conflict fast approaching, Yemen is now suffering from the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with a near-famine. While less than half of the hospitals in Yemen are functioning, the country is facing preventable disease outbreaks, including the largest cholera outbreak in modern history. Continued attacks by all parties to the conflict have destroyed civilian infrastructure and led to at least 10,000 civilian deaths. 8 million civilians are at risk of famine and 60% of the population is food insecure. 

The Saudi plan, despite the “comprehensive” moniker, is short on detail. But even in its abbreviated form, the IRC sees many red flags that should trouble not only the humanitarian community, but the international community writ large: 

It does not end the de-facto blockade. The severity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen demands that all ports – including and especially Hodeidah and Saleef – remain permanently open. YCHO only extends the current 30-day window allowing access to Hodeidah for another 30 days, which makes little to no difference on the ground. If the Saudis were serious about addressing the humanitarian crisis, the most valuable step they could take would be to lift the blockade, permanently, which they and the international community should do without delay.

Creating a parallel process undermines current humanitarian efforts. The HRP lays out clear priorities for the humanitarian response. The international community, including the US and UK-backed SLC, should be working through – not around – this plan.

It severely threatens humanitarian access, endangering the lives of millions more civilians. The plan would move the main hub of the response from Hodeidah port to Aden port and would increase capacity of additional Southern ports of Mokha and Mukalla as additional alternatives. The development of additional Yemeni ports is welcome and laudable, but not at the expense of access to Red Sea ports like Hodeidah and Saleef. The southern ports are neither equipped for, nor well placed to service populations in need: they the lack basic infrastructure and capacity of the northern ports, through which 80% of all imports come into Yemen, and humanitarians would need to go through 70 checkpoints between Sanaa and Aden, complicating delivery and driving up costs.

It undermines the rigorous UN-created commercial shipping inspection regime. The Security Council created the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM) to routinize inspections of commercial ships entering ports under Houthi-control and limit the dangerous delays in humanitarian and commercial imports. The Saudi plan references the need “to continue to support and develop the UNVIM, […] to prevent the Iranian-backed Houthi militias from continuing to smuggle weapons and military supplies into Yemen and using the port as a base to launch attacks in the Red Sea.” This is part of the SLC strategy of casting doubt on the UN inspections mechanism with no evidence and to justify SLC delays and inspections beyond UNVIM. 

It does not address the economic challenges of a collapsed economy. The acute deprivation in Yemen is as much a function of the blockade as it is the absence of basic public services. The SLC is overfunding the war effort at the expense of governance and service delivery. The vague “economic stabilization” clause in the YCHO does not address the restoration of basic public services. These funds should be used to reinstate basic government services and pay government workers. 

“A meaningful response to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis requires more access – not less. At best, this plan would shrink access and introduce new inefficiencies that would slow the response and keep aid from the neediest Yemenis, including the over 8 million on the brink of starvation,” said Catanzano. “At worst, it would dangerously politicize humanitarian aid by placing far too much control over the response in the hands of an active party to the conflict.” 

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 28 offices across the U.S. 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.