New York, NY, November 20, 2020 — Of the 90 million people around the world facing a hunger crisis as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Yemeni civilians are the most vulnerable, teetering on the brink of famine with over 80% of the population in need of humanitarian assistance. As the G20 convenes in Saudi Arabia, the IRC is calling for world leaders to release their funding commitments towards Yemen’s humanitarian response plan and to support a recovery package for Yemen’s beleaguered economy. Moreover, we call on the international community to use their diplomatic leverage - including a suspension of arms sales - to push for a nationwide ceasefire, and bring parties to the conflict to the negotiating table to reach a political settlement.
90% of Yemen’s food is imported and with the COVID-19 pandemic restricting supply chains and driving up food prices, coupled with a further 25% drop in Yemeni rial’s value, Yemen is also on the edge of economic collapse. Severe underfunding has forced critical humanitarian programmes to close. As G20 leaders come together to discuss a financial response to the pandemic, Yemen’s humanitarian response plan remains only 48% funded. As a result, 4 million fewer Yemenis were receiving aid each month by late 2020 compared to the response at the beginning of the year – a 30% reduction.
Aside from meeting great and growing financial needs, the IRC is calling on global powers - notably the US, UK and France - to suspend arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. In the first half of 2020, Saudi-led airstrikes more than doubled compared to the rate of the previous six months and, in September, civilian casualties reached their highest levels thus far this year. Now is the time for all involved parties to change course, and as humanitarian funding falls, further arms sales will only exacerbate the humanitarian need.
IRC Yemen Country Director, Tamuna Sabadze said:
“The clock is ticking. Day by day Yemenis are pushed further and further into a precarious situation, and for every day that humanitarian commitments are not fulfilled, we run the risk of pushing millions of people into famine. Alarmingly, child malnutrition was recorded at the highest it has ever been in October, and with only 50% of hospitals and clinics operating in Yemen, a nationwide ceasefire is desperately needed to ensure humanitarian organizations are able to reach those most in need. As things stand, people are less concerned about the pandemic and more concerned about their hunger needs.”
“There is a good reason Yemen should be at the top of the agenda at the summit in Saudi Arabia. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis is only getting worse - powered by the economic collapse and the ongoing conflict, to which Saudi Arabia is a party, which plummets more and more civilians into hunger and despair.”
Over 18,500 civilians have been killed by the more than 64,000 individual Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen since the war started in 2015. The recent report from the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen documents attacks on food storage and water transportation, and the diversion of water for profit. The GEE has stated clearly that war crimes have likely been committed by both sides to the conflict. With the privilege of holding the G20 summit in Saudi Arabia comes the responsibility of both leadership and commitment to alleviate the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. International humanitarian law must be upheld by all involved parties, funding commitments to the humanitarian response plan must be fulfilled and with arms sales that blindly support a war that is morally bankrupt and strategically misguided, must be suspended.
The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled our programming in 2015 to address greater humanitarian needs caused by the conflict. While the ongoing conflict, COVID-19 pandemic, and restriction of air and seaports create challenges to our operations, the IRC has maintained access to affected populations and continues to provide life-saving healthcare, economic empowerment, women’s protection and empowerment and education programming.