It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Mitchell, who has shown great leadership in speaking up on the Yemen issue. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz—my good friend—who led the debate for his very long-standing work on Yemen and for his role, with others, in the all-party parliamentary group. I echo his thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. I also welcome the new Minister to his post, as Minister both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in the Department for International Development, and I look forward to working closely with him in that capacity—on Yemen specifically, on the broader responsibilities he has for the middle east and north Africa, and on his important work on global health.
The scale of the humanitarian catastrophe has been well described already and is thankfully now widely known about. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said about the pledging conference that was held in February. The head of OCHA, the UN humanitarian relief agency, Mark Lowcock—to whom I also pay tribute—has pointed out that we face an 80% gap in terms of the funds that were pledged in February. I support the question that my right hon. Friend put to the Minister. It is important that the House is updated today on what the United Kingdom is doing to press the donors who pledged funds to deliver those funds, to assist the humanitarian relief effort.
We know that millions in Yemen face malnutrition. Save the Children, in its excellent briefing for the debate, estimates that 85,000 children under the age of five may have already died from extreme hunger or disease during this conflict—85,000 children under the age of five. We know about the scourge of preventable diseases. We have seen a recent increase in cases of cholera—it is estimated that around 1,000 children a day are contracting cholera—and the emergence for the first time in this crisis of swine flu in Yemen.
We also know that the breakdown of public services in general, and health services in particular, has a major and disproportionate effect on women, and in particular their access to maternal healthcare and family planning services. I want to talk a little bit about restrictions on access for humanitarian aid, because it lies at the heart of the humanitarian crisis that Yemen faces.