Yemen

Part of Parliamentary Sovereignty and EU Renegotiations – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 4th February 2016.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice) 4:14 pm, 4th February 2016

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirsten Oswald on bringing about this important debate, particularly at this time. Given the time pressures, I shall focus on the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Recent figures reported by the United Nations indicate that the conflict claimed 2,795 civilian lives in 2015, and that there have been thousands more casualties. Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict, and many thousands may die from malnutrition and the impact of the humanitarian crisis.

Even before the conflict, Yemen was the poorest country in the Arab world. Poor governance, poor human development indicators and rapid population growth meant that millions of people were suffering greatly and already experiencing poverty and hunger. The country is now experiencing a significant humanitarian crisis. It is reported that more than 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. That equates to approximately 21.1 million people, including nearly 10 million children.

In Yemen, it is the civilians who are bearing the brunt of the conflict. Many public facilities have been damaged or destroyed and people have lost access to essential services, including clean water, sanitation, energy and medical services. It is reported that nearly 600 health facilities have closed, and, as we have heard, hospitals have been hit. Food prices have soared, creating a desperate situation for millions of people, including particularly vulnerable groups of children. Of the 10 million affected children, nearly 8 million do not have enough to eat on a daily basis. UNICEF estimates that 537,000 children, or one in eight under-fives, are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.

Many children have been forced out of school by the conflict. Although differing figures are quoted, it appears that the number of children who need access to education may be between 2.9 million and 3.4 million. Furthermore, with medical centres being shut down and supplies diminishing, children are at risk of dying from treatable diseases. That is in addition to the risk of death or injury in the conflict itself. Save the Children has reported that since the start of the conflict, at least seven children have been killed or injured every day.

On human rights issues, it has been highlighted that there has been a significant recent increase in the recruitment and use of children in conflict in Yemen. I have spoken in previous debates about the impact of using children in combat. The effects are often felt long after the physical scars have healed. It psychologically damages them for life. In addition, it has been highlighted that children, particularly refugee children, are falling victim to human traffickers and are at risk of trauma, such as physical and sexual violence.

As we have heard, Yemen relies on imports for the majority of its food and fuel supplies. The blockade has had a significant impact on the quantity of vital supplies that are able to enter the country. The unpredictable and dangerous situations that agency staff on the ground have to work in have severely impeded their ability to distribute crucial humanitarian supplies around the country to affected populations. I pay tribute to the work of aid agencies in the area. Substantial obstacles continue to impede the passage of essential goods into and around Yemen. Much more needs to be done to create a humanitarian corridor.

I want to focus on the need to place increased diplomatic pressure on all parties in the conflict to support UN efforts to find a political solution. We must pressure those who are involved to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, to take all possible measures to protect civilians and to ensure that humanitarian agencies are given a safe space in which to operate. The UN declared Yemen a level 3 crisis on 1 July—a category reserved for the most severe and large-scale humanitarian crises. We need to put pressure on all those involved to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches vulnerable people, such as women, children, the disabled and those in need of medical aid and oxygen, as well as the general population. I beseech the Minister to do everything possible to increase the pressure for a ceasefire, an independent inquiry and a political solution, and to ensure that the ordinary civilians in Yemen who are affected, many of them helpless children, are protected and supported.