9603rd Meeting (AM)

Red Sea Crisis, Gaza Conflict Pose Threat to Progress, Stability in Yemen, Speakers Tell Security Council

Ceasefire, Road Map Leading to Inclusive Political Process ‘Best Possible Chance for Achieving Peace’, Delegate Stresses

While April 2024 marks two years since the United Nations-brokered truce — providing relief for the humanitarian situation long past its expiry — the crisis in and near the Red Sea continues to threaten progress and stability in Yemen, senior United Nations officials warned the Security Council today, as some delegates noted Iran’s role in supporting the Houthis and destabilizing the region.

“In the absence of a ceasefire in Gaza and a complete termination of attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the threat of further escalation persists,” warned Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, noting that the recent developments involving Iran and Israel underscore the urgency of this matter.

He said that, two years ago, the parties agreed to a much-welcomed nationwide truce, which has since provided relative calm along the Yemeni front lines.  In 2023, over 900 detainees were released, allowing them to spend Eid reunited with their families and loved ones.  Regrettably, this year has not witnessed such scenes of celebration, with detainees remaining incarcerated.  While the country-wide military situation remains contained compared to the situation before April 2022, hostilities have escalated on several front lines, particularly in Al Dhale’ and Lahj.  Troop movements, intermittent fighting and exchanges of fire have also been reported in Hudaydah, Ma’rib, Sa’adah, Shabwa and Ta’iz governorates.

What Yemenis ultimately need is a nationwide ceasefire, improved living conditions and the resumption of an inclusive political process that meaningfully engages a wide variety of voices, including women, youth, civil society and marginalized groups, he stressed, noting that his mediation approach has been focused on delivering “exactly that”.  In December 2023, the parties took an important step by articulating their readiness to operationalize a set of commitments through a United Nations road map.  Unfortunately, momentum towards an agreement was stalled by regional events, which have significantly complicated the mediation space.

While the conflicts in Yemen and the wider region have become undeniably interlinked, he emphasized that resolving the conflict in Yemen must not be contingent upon the resolution of other issues.  “We cannot risk Yemen’s chance for peace becoming collateral damage,” he asserted, adding that the country’s people — including the 17 million that remain dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival — have suffered for too long already.  “If we leave Yemen’s political process in the waiting room and continue down this path of escalation, the consequences could be catastrophic, not only for Yemen but also for the wider region,” he cautioned.

Voicing concern over the difficult humanitarian environment in Yemen, Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, from December 2023 to February 2024, aid agencies reported 137 access constraints.  The majority were interference in humanitarian programming and movement restrictions in areas controlled by the Houthi de facto authorities — in particular, for Yemeni women aid workers.  She also pointed to a concerning deficit in funding for the 2024 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is only 10 per cent funded.

Detailing her Office’s response to shifting realities in Yemen, she said it is promoting a locally driven approach and more sustainable solutions and pursues more structured engagement with all parties.  On the “alarming” resurgence of cholera across the country since October 2023, she said the response in Government-controlled areas — led by the Government with the support of the humanitarian community — has slowed the spread of the disease and ensured the availability of treatment for people affected.

However, since March, the outbreak has spread rapidly in areas controlled by the Houthi de facto authorities.  As of 7 April, more than 11,000 suspected cases have been reported in these areas with 75 associated deaths.  “As shown by the success in curbing the outbreak in Government-controlled areas, a rapid response is critical,” she emphasized, adding that the UN and its humanitarian partners are working closely with relevant authorities to scale up the response.  Nevertheless, emergency stocks of essential supplies are almost depleted, and water, sanitation and hygiene support systems need urgent strengthening, she observed, appealing to the international community to help fill these urgent gaps.

Further, food and nutrition insecurity in Yemen remains deeply worrying, she said, spotlighting the World Food Programme’s (WFP) pilot retargeting exercise which is now under way in Houthi-controlled areas.  “Until food assistance starts flowing, the humanitarian country team and partners are doing what they can to mitigate the most severe impacts of the pause in general food assistance and protect the most vulnerable,” she stated.  Nutrition interventions will be scaled up in 34 districts assessed to be the worst affected.  “Yet needs remain tremendous, and the United Nations and humanitarian partners require significantly more to keep hunger at bay,” she stressed.

Wameedh Shakir, Founder and Chairwoman of Itar Foundation for Social Development, said women and children are most impacted by the Yemeni crisis, making up almost 80 per cent of those in need of humanitarian assistance. The economic collapse caused by the currency value drop and the 300 per cent food price increase disproportionately burdens Yemeni women.  “Excluded from decision-making, women bear the brunt of the conflict yet have no voice in ending it,” she stated, adding that girls account for 70 per cent of the 4.5 million children who are out of school.  Lack of access to education for girls has implications on rates of forced early child marriage, particularly for displaced girls — about one in five displaced girls aged 10 to 19 is currently married.

Climate change adds another layer of devastation to the humanitarian catastrophe, she said, noting that Yemen’s vulnerability to the phenomenon translates into food insecurity, water scarcity and displacement.  Erratic rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and declining groundwater levels threaten food security for millions who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.  “All this disproportionately affects women and girls, who often play a crucial role in food production and household water collection and management,” she pointed out.  The fact that women own less than 1 per cent of land further hinders their ability to adapt to climate change and access resources.

Mitigating the effects of climate change requires long-term development programmes, abundant funding and specialized expertise, she observed, emphasizing that strategies to address climate change must reflect the needs, expertise and aspirations of women and girls.  She also urged the parties in Yemen to lift all restrictions on the movement of Yemeni women and humanitarian and peacebuilding workers.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers underscored the importance of an inclusive intra-Yemen process to settle the political crisis, the dire humanitarian catastrophe and the effects of climate change on peace and security.  They also expressed concern about the spillover of the conflict in Gaza across the Middle East, including Houthi attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

“It is no secret that Iran provides weapons to the Houthis in violation of the UN arms embargo,” said the representative of the United States, urging Tehran to stop fomenting instability and terror in the region.  Condemning “unprecedented attacks” by Iran against Israel this past weekend, he requested the Secretary-General to include — in his monthly reports on resolution 2722 (2024) — information regarding the types of weapons used in each incident and, where appropriate, the likely origin of these weapons.

The United Kingdom’s delegate also noted Iran’s “unacceptable role in destabilizing the region, including their role in supporting the Houthis in Yemen”.  Her counterpart from France underscored that the attacks carried by Iran and its proxies against Israel constitute a serious and major threat to international peace and security and the stability of the region, while Japan’s delegate called for the release of the leader of the Japanese-operated cargo ship Galaxy and its multinational crew detained by the Houthis.

The representative of the Russian Federation, however, argued that the root cause of this situation is the continued bloodshed in Gaza in violation of Council resolution 2728 (2024), categorically condemning missile and bomb attacks by the United States-led Western coalition targeting the sovereign territory of Yemen.  Adding to that, the speaker for China pointed out the 15-member organ has never authorized any country to use force against Yemen and that no country should misinterpret or abuse international law and Council resolutions.  “The tensions in the Red Sea are a visible manifestation of the spillover effects of the Gaza conflict,” he observed.

“It is imperative to avoid a regional spillover of the Gaza conflict and to de-escalate tensions in the wider region of the Middle East, including in Yemen,” said the representative of Sierra Leone, who also spoke for Algeria, Guyana and Mozambique, calling for assurances for the safety of ships carrying humanitarian aid and foodstuff to Yemeni ports.

The speaker for Ecuador warned that the conflict in the Red Sea not only threatens to reverse the limited progress that has been made in restoring Yemenis’ livelihoods but could also alter the will of the parties to pursue the peace process.  In that vein, Slovenia’s delegate said that the vision of the Special Envoy for a ceasefire and a road map leading to an inclusive political process is “the best possible chance for achieving peace” after nine years of war in Yemen.  “We must not lose sight of that ultimate aim,” she stressed, calling on all parties to engage constructively with the Special Envoy and prioritize de-escalation and dialogue.

Besides the political and security situation in Yemen, “we must also take note of the deteriorating humanitarian situation”, said the representative of the Republic of Korea.  Humanitarian agencies are short of funds, and food insecurity and lack of nutrition jeopardize the survival of vulnerable groups, including children, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, he added.

Among those highlighting climate-induced challenges in Yemen was the representative of Malta, Council President for April, who spoke in her national capacity. “We must not forget that Yemen is the third country most susceptible to climate-related impacts, and one of the least prepared for climate shocks,” she said, urging the international community to help that country mitigate such effects, including by ensuring adequate access to climate financing and assisting in national preparatory systems and investment in climate-resilient measures.

On that, her counterpart from Switzerland noted that natural hazards have displaced over 700,000 people since 2008, increasing tensions over water, food and basic services in host regions.  A recent study by a Swiss-funded Yemeni non-governmental organization showed that more than half of the displaced people had to change shelter because of natural hazards.  In addition, droughts and floods cause agricultural losses and exacerbate livelihood insecurity.

Rounding out the discussion, the representative of Yemen said that despite the mediation efforts by Saudi Arabia and Oman and the nearing signature on the road map, “the terrorist Houthi militias, as usual, decided to shirk their responsibilities towards peace”.  They chose to undermine the political process with a destructive and dangerous escalation in the Red Sea under the pretence of assisting Palestinians in Gaza.  The flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthis could lead to prolonging the conflict in Yemen and worsening the humanitarian crisis, he warned, declaring:  “The Yemeni Government remains committed to the choice of peace.”

For information media. Not an official record.