UN Humanitarian Envoy Gives Harrowing Account of Conditions in Yemen, “A Place with Hope in Very Short Supply”

Event Video

“It’s a place with hope in very short supply, Yemen,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, opening his presentation at an IPI Humanitarian Affairs Series event on “Addressing the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen” September 22nd.

“There is no citizen in that country spared by what’s going on,” he said. “What you’ve got is a man-made crisis with people touched by it who have no power to stop it.”

A two-and-a-half-year-old conflict in Yemen has turned the country into what the UN says is now the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and largest food insecurity crisis.

The current hostilities erupted in March of 2015, just months after the arrival of Mr. McGoldrick, a seasoned UN humanitarian official with past service in places like Nepal, Pakistan, Georgia, and Lebanon. The conflict pitted a Saudi-led coalition loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied with the Houthi rebel movement and widely thought to be supported by Iran.

As a result of fighting since then–much of it involving devastating attacks from the air–the economy is now near collapse, public and private services have all but disappeared, and average citizens, having lost their livelihoods and whatever savings they had, face tremendous hardship while the most vulnerable are struggling simply to survive.

Supplying the stark details, Mr. McGoldrick said that 7 million Yemenis faced the threat of famine, and that there are already 650,000 cases of cholera, a statistic he said was expected to rise. Food insecurity, already critical, has jumped 20 percent this year; 50 percent of all health structures have been destroyed; 1.2 million civil service workers, 30,000 of them health workers, have not been paid, and up to 10,000 people, by the count of the Norwegian Refugee Council, have died prematurely without treatment or because travel out of the country is blocked.

“People go in villages and die because there’s no health service for them,” he said. “They die because the cancer services don’t work, the blood bank doesn’t work, dialysis doesn’t work, insulin’s not available.”

Air strikes in the first six months of 2017 equal the number in all of last year, and military activity is “heavily stalemated,” he said. “There are many instances of armed clashes, shellings and IEDs, and their indiscriminate nature is unparalleled.”

There is an overall disdain for international humanitarian and human rights law by all parties in the conflict, with killing and wounding of civilians, recruitment of child soldiers, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and unlawful restrictions on the passage of humanitarian assistance.

“The belligerents understand their obligations under the Geneva Conventions, but there’s a blatant disregard for them,” Mr. McGoldrick declared. “No matter what we do to talk to the parties, we get silence, we get indifference, and until that changes, we will have this recurring humanitarian nightmare.”

Everyone realizes that the war is a “massive failure,” he said, “but we still have to get the parties to be much more willing to accept a political solution.”

In a final commentary on the inhumanity of the situation, he said, “You never hear any of these parties ever say caring statements about the population. That’s not what they care about. What they care about is political gain, and that has to change.”

He said the only way a humanitarian response can get through is “to end the war.”

The moderator was Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations.