Flick Drummond was MP for Portsmouth South from 2015 to 2017.
The end of last year saw a thousand days pass since the recent hostilities escalated in Yemen. The UN says that it is the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis. Yet is only recently that the media has begun to highlight the suffering of children and their families whose lives continue to deteriorate. There are over 21 million people, including over 10 million children, starving and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. The war can only be solved by peace talks, but there are no signs that these are getting back on track, and now is the time for the UK government to take a lead.
The UK Government must initiate further talks as soon as possible, and push for a negotiated deal through a new UN Security Council Resolution. As a permanent member of the Security Council and close ally to all members of the Coalition, the UK government are in the perfect position to lead, and use its diplomatic leverage to work towards an urgent solution.
It is still not clear what impact the recent murder of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former President who was leading the opposition to the legitimate government alongside the Houthis who killed him, is going to have on moving the negotiations forward. The killing should have been the perfect opportunity to recommence the peace talks but, instead, has led to increased fighting in the capital Sanaa, which is still a Houthis stronghold. Houthis launch frequent missiles into Saudi Arabia, and the Coalition bombing of Houthis-held areas continues.
In the meantime, civilians continue to pay the deadliest price. Casualty figures keep rising and schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure continue to be destroyed by all parties to the conflict.
As an MP, I worked tirelessly with my colleagues across the House to raise this issue. I was part of the All-Party Group on Yemen, in hich we heard firsthand accounts from aid agencies such as Save the Children, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Oxfam and others working in Yemen about the difficulties they experienced in providing essential medicine and food to people in need.
We also heard evidence from security experts, who warn about the dangers of letting the conflict continue unabated, both in terms of Yemen’s long-term future prospects and also for the region. Extremist groups are capitalising on a failed state being ravaged by conflict, hunger and disease. The legitimate government of Yemen now controls 80 per cent of the land but that is only 30 per cent of the population. Al Qaeda is well established in central Yemen despite American intervention, and Islamic State (Daesh) are beginning to operate.
Political interventions from Theresa May, Boris Johnson and, more recently, Penny Mordaunt influenced the Saudi-led Coalition’s announcement to fully open the main Hodeidah Port for 30 days, including allowing entry for the UN’s four new cranes (which have been stuck in Dijbouti for months). This is good news, as Yemen has always been dependent on imports for 90 per cent of its staples and 70 per cent of food supplies as well as all its fuel before the civil war . The re-opening of Hodeidah Port should help ease some of the immediate pressures children and their families are facing in Yemen, as prices in supermarkets are high due to the scarcity of food and goods. Many Yemenis in Sanaa lost their jobs when President Hadi moved the government to Aden when it was retaken, and have no income for food, so aid is also essential.
A press conference by the Coalition in Saudi Arabia last month indicated that a full long term humanitarian response plan will announced soon, but with no date forthcoming. Let us hope that a plan is put in place before the 30 days has finished, so that the port can be open indefinitely. Lack of fuel due to the blockade has meant that water pumps have not been working and locals are drinking dirty water leading to a spread of cholera.
In the meantime, increased violence in Hodeidah and other areas is limiting humanitarian agencies’ ability to operate and further action needs to be taken by the international community, including Iran, which is supporting the rebel Houthis. The recent extra £50 million in aid from the UK Government will be gratefully received and, as one of the main contributors to aid in the region, the Government has every right to lead on peace negotiations.
While this is ongoing, our Government must push to ensure that the blockade of Hodeidah Port is not re-imposed after 30 days.
If we lift our foot of the pedal, it is the children that will continue to beat the brunt of this conflict. There has to be an immediate peace deal before even more of Yemen’s children and their families suffer and die, and I urge the British Government to make this a priority at the beginning of 2018.