Yemen

Part of Parliamentary Sovereignty and EU Renegotiations – in the House of Commons at 3:57 pm on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 3:57 pm, 4th February 2016

I welcome this debate and the inquiry by the International Development Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member. The suffering of the people of Yemen is acute, and the world needs to know about it. I urge people who have knowledge and can provide an account of the situation in Yemen to contribute to our inquiry. As the Chairman of the Committee has just said, we heard some powerful accounts during a meeting with the diaspora just a couple of weeks ago. I hope to refer to some of them in a moment.

I applaud my hon. Friend Edward Argar for his excellent speech, on which basis I have had to remove substantial parts of mine. I will, however, reflect on some of the points that have been raised during the debate. As several Members have said, 21.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, making it the country with the highest number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the world. Forty per cent. of the country’s population are under 15 years old, so the children really are suffering substantially. Since March 2015, 1,012 grave violations against children have been documented; the figure is now likely to be much higher. Forty-one schools and 61 hospitals have been damaged and, as has been said, more than 700 children have been recruited or used by armed groups. As we heard from the diaspora, those youths join extremist groups simply to feed their families.

Not only are 47% of schoolchildren in Yemen out of school but, as a university professor from the diaspora group told us, higher education has been affected. He taught in a university that once had 4,000 students; there are now only 400 left. Those statistics will have a significant bearing on the long-term development of the country. We were told by the diaspora that there have been outbreaks of dengue fever and measles, and that they fear polio. They told us that the health facilities have been gutted, and that there are 2 million people in an area that is at grave risk of a malaria outbreak.

Those who are in business told us that the banking system, which is vital if people are to survive, is crippled. One businessman said that before the conflict, there were 15 banks that he could work through, but now there is only one left and he worries that it will close soon. Will Ministers do what they can to try to ensure that what remains of the banking system stays open, so that those involved in business can continue to trade? That is vital.

Much of the food in Yemen—80% to 90%—is imported. We were told, however, that the economy is crippled and cannot function. Manufacturing and what food production there is in Yemen have stopped. Products, including medicines, which are in short supply, now cost 300 to 400 times more than they used to on the black market. Major cities have had no electricity for six months. The UN report of last August stated that 26% of private businesses had closed in a five-month period, but the diaspora representatives told us that the true number was much higher. On their estimates, 77% of private sector businesses have closed and 71% of private sector workers have lost their jobs. That is critical because, as they told us, although aid can help, it will never be enough to feed and support the more than 20 million people we are talking about. A healthy economy is what is needed.

Finally, I pay tribute to all who are working in Yemen, including Save the Children and the UN workers, for the sterling work that they are doing in such difficult circumstances. Let us hope that the world continues to hear and take note of the suffering of Yemen. For too long, too little information has been put out, and I congratulate all Members of the House who are determined to ensure that that changes.