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Statement by David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, after his three day visit to Yemen

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:

I came to Yemen to listen and to learn from those who live and work here, and to use their testimony to call global attention to the humanitarian crisis in the country. I was able to visit Sana’a, Bajil in Hodeidah governorate, and Aden. I met with business people, civilians, internally displaced people, health workers and government officials. At each stage I have been supported by UN as well as IRC staff, and been impressed by their professionalism and courage.  

The IRC has around 800 people working as part of IRC’s services. We work in the North and South of the country, in seven governorates in total. Over the last 4 years we have served over 1.5 million people.  I am proud that we will soon be starting education services to complement the current focus on health, water and sanitation, economic recovery and women’s protection.

Yemen now represents the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. I have seen for myself some of the human cost. Lives lost, families separated, livelihoods crushed, infrastructure smashed, the economy on its knees.

A visit to Yemen is a wake-up call, and the world needs a wake-up call to the situation in Yemen. The risk is that it will get much worse. With more than 22 million people in need of aid, 68% of the population lacking access to basic healthcare, and nearly half the population lacking access to clean drinking water, the Yemeni people have suffered too much. But the fact that August was the deadliest month for this conflict, with 450 civilians killed in medical facilities, schools, funerals, weddings and coach journeys, is reason enough to believe that the worst is yet to come.

No side is winning the war in Yemen. In fact, it is all-lose, no-win. My visit has reinforced the desperate need for a ceasefire to stop the killing, to halt the erosion of basic services, and to give space to the UN-sponsored political process.  

The city of Hodeidah is now the flash point. I was not able to reach the city, but did meet people displaced from there. They told me how the fighting was encroaching onto civilian areas and taking civilian lives. The squeeze on supplies through the port of Hodeidah threatens more misery across the whole country. The threat of an armed battle for Hodeidah offers only the path to disaster.

After three and a half years of war, during which Yemen’s healthcare system has been decimated, vaccine treatable diseases have skyrocketed, the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition has tripled, and the country has seen the largest cholera outbreak in recorded history, the people of Yemen have suffered, but none of the warring parties have advanced their strategic position.

That is why Yemen is not just a humanitarian crisis but a political crisis that is a threat to peace and security across the region. The conflict is growing more complex, more dangerous, more brutal – and the prospects for conciliation and reconstruction more remote. That vicious circle needs to be turned round.

It is not good enough for international actors to say this conflict is too complicated for it to be resolved. That is a recipe for more death and destruction. Those on the ground know what is needed now: An end to attacks on civilians, the unimpeded flow of humanitarian supplies and personnel, the opening of the ports to commercial and humanitarian traffic, the opening of Sana’a airport, the payment of public sector salaries, an end to human rights abuses, and good faith commitment to the peace talks process. The work of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has never been more important. His work depends on a recognition that a political settlement must be inclusive and comprehensive.

The humanitarian imperative demands that we are on the side of the long-suffering Yemeni people. We call out all those who flout common decency as well as international law on all sides. Every day the war continues is an indictment not just a tragedy. With the UN General Assembly meeting in New York next week, now is the time to say enough is enough.

To download photos of David MIliband’s trip to Yemen, click here.

To learn more about the IRC’s work in Yemen, click here.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.