Speech

"More than 20 million men, women and children risk starving to death in the next six months."

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the Security Council briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Yemen, South Sudan, and Somalia.

Matthew Rycroft

I would like to begin by thanking Stephen for his briefing. As well as for his initiative and stamina in confronting the toughest humanitarian challenges that the world present. And through him, may I pay tribute to all humanitarian workers responding to these humanitarian challenges, which are of a scale so unprecedented, so unacceptable that it’s almost unimaginable.

More than 20 million men, women and children risk starving to death in the next six months. That’s nearly the entire population of Australia. Absolutely astounding in 2017.

Let me focus briefly on South Sudan, Somalia and then Yemen.

In South Sudan, we need to see the Government bring an overdue end to the fighting and improve humanitarian access. It is completely unacceptable that people in famine areas like Mayendit are not receiving the food and medical supplies that could save their lives.

These are exactly the messages we need to keep sending at the highest levels, including at our meeting on South Sudan, chaired by the British Foreign Secretary later this month. And we need to match our messages with our money. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to South Sudan but we cannot do it alone. We are matching our money with our deeds, by strengthening UNMISS with almost 400 peacekeepers, including military engineers and a field hospital. And we call on others to follow suit.

In Somalia, we have a crucial window to take action before the drought takes hold. If we act early and decisively, we can prevent a repeat of 2011 when over a quarter of a million people died through famine. Again, we must all play our part. The UK is providing emergency food and safe drinking water to one million people, but more, much more, is needed.

If we don’t step up, others will. Al Shabaab are poised to step into the breach left by any lack of national or international resources. If we abandon the people of Somalia, we risk reversing the political and security gains of the last four years by forcing them to turn towards Al Shabaab in desperation. So I strongly urge other donors to come forward.

And in Yemen, the situation is equally grave. Civilians are paying the highest price for the continuing conflict. So we urge all sides to facilitate safe access by the UN and by NGOs to deliver vital life saving assistance.

That means all parties must uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and do everything feasible to prevent civilian casualties and to prevent damage to civilian infrastructure. Because the continued flow of commercial supplies into Yemen will be critical if we are to prevent famine. Eighty five percent of Yemen’s food needs in the last year were met through commercial imports.

All parties need to ensure the continued facilitation of commercial and humanitarian imports and their onward distribution - and we must continue to support UNVIM to carry out their crucial work. In tandem, we need to find ways to stabilise the banking sector and solve the liquidity crisis so that importers have the means and the funds to pay for foods and basic goods.

Again, we need step up our own efforts. Last year’s UN Appeal was only 60% funded. This year it’s only 6% funded. We need to give generously so that the Resident Coordinator has the resources he needs to tackle the crisis.

For our part, the United Kingdom has increased our humanitarian aid to Yemen to $125 million. And in both 2015 and 2016, we helped more than a million Yemenis with food, medical supplies and clean water.

Ultimately, however, it will remain difficult to address Yemen’s humanitarian needs whilst the conflict is ongoing. We call upon all parties to engage meaningfully with the UN Special Envoy’s proposals for peace, and to make progress towards a ceasefire and an enduring political settlement. The United Kingdom will continue to play a leading role in supporting his efforts to achieve this.

Thank you.

Published 13 March 2017