Interview: “There will be no stability if we don’t also deal with the underlying causes of the current crisis”
This morning (25 September), the United Nations Secretary General and Humanitarian Chief, as well as Ministers, directors of UN agencies and others will gather in the margins of the UN General Assembly to discuss the political, economic and security situation in Yemen.
Ahead of this gathering of the ‘Friends of Yemen’, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has repeated his warning that recent political progress could be halted unless humanitarian needs are addressed.
“There will be no stability if we don’t also deal with the underlying causes of the current crisis,” he said.
Q. Thank you for joining us. What is the humanitarian situation in Yemen today?
A. Yemen is facing a major humanitarian crisis. When people look at Yemen today they think about the political process which indeed is moving ahead. But half of all Yemenis need food assistance. More than 13 million Yemenis [in a country of 25 million] cannot have access to safe drinking water. Malnutrition among children is the second highest in the world after Afghanistan. We have close to [300,000] internally displaced people and we have a big issue of migrants coming from the Horn of Africa.
We have to acknowledge there have been important gains on the political front. But these gains can be undermined if we don’t look at the humanitarian crisis. We came here to remind the world that there will be no stability in Yemen – which means the stability in the Horn of Africa, which means the stability in the Gulf – there will be no stability if we don’t also deal with the underlying causes of the current crisis.
Q. In July you renewed your call to donors to fund humanitarian operations in Yemen. What has the response been? Have you seen any increase in funding since then?
A. Unfortunately since July until now we haven’t seen a major increase in the funding. Overall [we had] around 40 per cent in June and July [of the total needs of US$702 million], we are around 44 per cent only today. So we haven’t seen that materialize.
Q. What is your expectation for the ‘Friends of Yemen’ meeting?
A. I am hoping that as much as we can see today that there is an international coalition to support the political process - that there will also be a coalition of donors who stand behind the humanitarian situation.
There are countries who have come forward [in support of humanitarian efforts]: for example the UK, the US, the EU, Japan, and the Swedish government. I am hoping that these donors, along with the Gulf countries will [form] what I call a coalition against malnutrition, against hunger, against the pockets of major poverty.
Q. You have repeatedly called on donors to support efforts to strengthen the resilience of communities. Why is this so important in Yemen?
A. My message to donors is very simple: we don’t want to be coming every single year to you with another humanitarian appeal. We are going to prepare another [for 2014] and probably this time we are thinking of a two year [appeal] because the underlying problems, the real causes have not been dealt with.
I can give you an example. I went to Abyan [a region in the south of Yemen that saw severe fighting between government forces and militants in 2011 and 2012, and where reconstruction efforts have been slow to progress]. I met this lady sitting in front of her house. She had three girls and one boy. Their house was completely destroyed. They were receiving a little support from WFP (the World Food Programme) in terms of food, they were receiving some support in terms of health, but that’s not enough.
Q. What is your message to some of the Gulf countries? What do you want to see countries in the region do to support Yemen?
A. We are telling the Gulf countries that it’s not about only funding, it’s about coordination. It’s about putting our efforts together. If we don’t coordinate we undermine your effort and our effort. Lack of coordination can harm people because sometimes we go to the same population and provide the same assistance while there is another part of the population which is deprived. So coordination by itself helps. Coming together, putting our effort together will help us, and will help you.