Baroness Anelay: We must continue our humanitarian support for the people of Yemen
More than eight million people are at risk of starvation in Yemen. The next prime minister must not only commit to continuing with the UK’s current contribution to the World Food Programme – but also make resolving this conflict a priority, writes Baroness Anelay
“I hope someday I can come here to brief you on great news, conflict ending, well-fed and healthy children. Regrettably, today is not that day. The humanitarian situation in Yemen is dire.”
That was the report given to the United Nations Security Council on June 17 by the World Food Programme’s Chief Executive David Beasley.
The WFP is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world's largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security. It provides food assistance to an average of 91.4 million people in 83 countries each year.
Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world and the country most at risk of famine: 24 million people, almost 80% of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes 8.4 million people at risk of starvation.
The work of those delivering humanitarian relief in Yemen is fraught with danger and subject to food aid being diverted by parties to the conflict. The UK’s then Minister Alastair Burt MP gave evidence to the Lords International Relations Select Committee earlier this year that 95% of the aid was getting through. He said that Houthi-controlled territory posed particular problems:
“They are more restrictive with access, and they are more difficult on the ground about visas and about people working to distribute aid. Also…there is more risk of supplies being diverted or taxed as they go through in Houthi-controlled areas. That is how they make their money.”
The World Food Programme is a UN Agency but does not get money from the annual compulsory contribution made by member states to the UN. It has to rely on voluntary donations.
The UK is the fifth largest donor of humanitarian support in Yemen (after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and the USA).
In February, Prime Minister Theresa May announced £200m of additional support for the Yemen response for the financial year 2019/20. It is intended to provide food assistance in Yemen to those most at risk of dying from starvation and disease, meeting the immediate food needs of over one million Yemenis each month over the year, treating 30,000 children for malnutrition and providing one million people with improved water supply and basic sanitation.
The UK has urged other pledging countries to remit funds without delay – as we have.
My two challenges to the candidates seeking to be the next Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister are:
1.Will you guarantee that the UK’s financial contribution to the World Food Programme generally, and to humanitarian work in Yemen in particular, will continue beyond 2019/20?
2.Will you give a much higher priority in future to resolving – not just mitigating – the situation in Yemen? Particularly in the light of the tension between the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition and the UK’s role as a major donor of humanitarian relief to those affected by the conflict?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns is a Conservative peer. Her Oral Question is on Thursday 27 June.