Yemen: Political and Humanitarian Situation

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 5th July 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 4:30 pm, 5th July 2017

My hon. Friend rightly mentions Hodeidah. The fear is that a future battle over that port might lead to a full-blown famine, as nearly all Yemen’s food is imported through it. There is also the crucial issue of wages. According to UNICEF and the World Health Organisation wages have not been paid to health and public services staff for nine to 10 months in many areas, meaning a complete collapse in waste collections and water and sanitation facilities, let alone health facilities. That, of course, leads directly to the crisis we see with cholera, which has now surpassed 200,000 cases with the number growing by 5,000 a day. Cholera is a disease that is entirely preventable and easily treatable with the proper resources. It is a symptom of a totally failing state and of the parlous situation that Yemen finds itself in. It is also due in part to the direct bombing of water supplies in the country and the hits on those who aim to help. Shockingly, Oxfam has told me that its own water and sanitation warehouse facilities were hit by bombing, and the Houthis have precipitated a further humanitarian crisis in Taiz by siege and blockade tactics that have left some people, it has been alleged this week, with only leaves to eat.

UNHCR field teams have observed a huge spike in humanitarian needs, with displaced people now living on the streets and many of them seeking shelter on the pavement. Some of the most vulnerable people, including women and children, are turning to approaches such as begging and child labour, which is now rampant across Yemen. The situation on the humanitarian front is utterly disastrous and we all need to step up as an international community to play our part.

As I have said in the past, I accept the serious concerns that have been raised about the wider regional nature of the conflict, and indeed the wider power plays that are going on out there, and I will make it absolutely clear that I have no agenda against Saudi Arabia or a legitimate defence industry in this country that adheres to the rule of law. However, I have great concerns about UK policy continuing in this area. We have heard about the atrocities committed by the Houthis and I will be absolutely clear that I utterly condemn them. We have heard stories about child soldiers, the blockading of humanitarian access, siege tactics, the use of landmines and other indiscriminate weapons, and appalling and indiscriminate artillery attacks that kill civilians. However, we are not selling arms to the Houthis and we are selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition, and the UN estimates that more than 60% of civilian casualties are the result of attacks by the Saudi-led coalition.