Flick Drummond is MP for Portsmouth South.
This week marks the anniversary of the launch a year ago of military operations by the Saudi-led coalition in support of the Government of Yemen against Houthi opposition forces. Twelve months on, the lives of Yemenis are filled with fear, hunger and despair.
Over 21 million people, ten million of them children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. Children and their families face daily threats of bombs and bullets; but there are also shortages of food and safe drinking water. There is a lack of access to basic health care, including hospitals and medicines. Yemen is the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers – with even more people in need of humanitarian aid than in Syria – yet the crisis still remains largely invisible.
I have regularly raised in Parliament my concerns about the coalition’s blockade on shipping which stopped supplies of fuel, medicine and food from entering Yemen. Whilst this has now eased, NGOs such as Save the Children that operate in the country have informed me that imports remain well below pre-conflict levels. This contributes to severe shortages of basic supplies and inflating prices in many areas. I am proud that the UK is a key aid donor, and that the Department of International Development has recently added another £10 million to fund this crisis, with the total amount now reaching £85 million. This will help millions of children and their families, but the Government must continue to ensure that all restrictions on access into and across the country are removed.
However, there is also a protection crisis in Yemen. Since March last year, over 8,800 civilians have been killed or injured. Among them are at least 856 children who have been killed and a further 1,249 who have been injured. This equates to six children being killed or injured every day as a direct consequence of the conflict. Children have also been recruited by armed groups, abducted, and raped. Hospitals and schools – which should be safe places even in war – have been attacked and humanitarian assistance denied. Yemen now faces a child protection crisis with an estimated 7.4 million children in need of some form of assistance. In this day and age, that is completely unacceptable.
There have been regular allegations that violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed by all sides in the conflict. A recent UN report documented 119 incidents by Saudi-led coalition forces, including attacks on weddings, mosques, ports and markets. In two recent incidents, coalition airstrikes on market places are reported to have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties including children.
While I have confidence that the peace talks will bear fruit, we cannot wait to address both the humanitarian and civilian protection crises. The UK is an influential partner to Saudi Arabia and can bring pressure on it and other parties to the conflict to better protect children and their families, including by insisting on full compliance with international law. This is something that the APPG on Yemen, which I am a member of, has called for in our report published last year, and which was recently echoed by the International Development Committee. In addition, the Government should join calls for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas from which civilians in Yemen account for 93 per cent of all casualties.
We cannot allow Yemen to become another protracted crisis in the Middle East. As we mark the one year anniversary, I call on the Government and the wider international community to intensify efforts in support of a long-lasting political solution. But in the meantime it must do more to end the suffering not only by its support to the humanitarian response, but also by helping to end the bloodshed and terror faced by millions of Yemenis today.