Yemen

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:56 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 12:56 pm, 21st November 2018

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this vital issue. The conflict in Yemen has escalated to become one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world. Today, 8 million people—nearly a third of the population—depend on United Nations food aid. Starvation and disease have taken hold across the country. More than 420,000 children have been treated for malnutrition and 1.2 million people have suffered from a cholera epidemic. In total, about 22 million people across Yemen—nearly 80% of the population—are in need of help. Yet the bare statistics cannot convey the enormity of this tragedy. What we are witnessing is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, inflicted by a conflict that has raged for too long.

Britain is one of the biggest donors of emergency aid, providing £170 million of help to Yemen this year, which brings our total support to £570 million since 2015. But the only solution is for all the parties to set aside their arms, cease missile and air attacks on populated areas, and pursue a peaceful political settlement. Last week, I conveyed this message to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which lead the coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s legitimate Government, when I visited both countries. On Monday, I said the same in Tehran to the Foreign Minister of Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels.

On the same day, I instructed our mission at the United Nations to circulate a draft resolution to the Security Council urging a “durable cessation of hostilities” throughout Hodeidah province, and calling on the parties to

“cease all attacks on densely populated civilian areas across Yemen”.

This draft resolution also requires the unhindered flow of food and medicine, and all other forms of aid, “across the country”. The aim of this UK-sponsored resolution is to relieve the immediate humanitarian crisis and maximise the chances of achieving a political settlement. Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy, is planning to gather all the parties for peace talks in Sweden in the next few weeks.

Amid this tragedy, the House will have noticed some encouraging signs. Last week, Saudi Arabia and the UAE paused their operation in Hodeidah, although there was a further outbreak of fighting yesterday. The Houthi rebels have publicly promised to cease their missile attacks on Saudi Arabia. Martin Griffiths is meeting all parties as he prepares the ground for the talks in Sweden.

Britain holds a unique position as the pen holder for Yemen in the Security Council, a leading humanitarian donor and a country with significant influence in the region, so we will make every effort, and use all the diplomatic assets at our command, to support the UN envoy as he seeks to resolve a crisis that has inflicted such terrible suffering.