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Yemeni children from families who were affected by the war and blockade, receive a lunch meal from a charitable center on April 12, 2021 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

Yemeni children from families who were affected by the war and blockade, receive a lunch meal from a charitable center on April 12, 2021 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)

Here's What the US Must Do to Help End Humanitarian Emergency in Yemen

Amanda Catanzano, International Rescue Committee's Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Yemen.

Note: The following were the remarks, as prepared for delivering, given as testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Chairman Murphy, Ranking Member Young, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for convening us today and for prioritizing Yemen for this subcommittee's first hearing. 

I represent the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian organization with over 400 staff, mainly Yemenis, working across the country. Last year, the IRC provided health services for over 600,000 Yemenis and treated nearly 30,000 children under 5 for malnutrition—thanks in large part to generous US funding. We also provide education, clean water, emergency cash, and job training.

While the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is protracted, it is by no means static. The situation continues to unravel as Yemenis confront new shocks with fewer resources, less resilience. 

After a relative lull, conflict is spiking. Yemenis are enduring the legacy of a cruelly conducted war that has made recovery nearly impossible. Every day, for over six years, Yemenis have endured ten airstrikes, on average. At the same time, the conflict’s daily horrors continue. Last year, the number of frontlines exploded from 33 to 49, making safety increasingly hard to find. Today, Yemenis are more likely to be killed in their homes than anywhere else. 

Yemen’s economy is collapsing as warring parties manipulate it as a tool of warfare—choking the import of critical commodities, especially fuel, and sending prices skyrocketing. Three in five Yemenis surveyed by the IRC could not afford basic items like food and many families must resort to child labor and child marriage to ease expenses. 

The humanitarian response is constrained. Bureaucratic challenges—not conflict—account for over 90% of access incidents. Despite some improvements, issues like delays in program approvals still slow the delivery of aid. But the biggest constraint is underfunding, which has forced humanitarians to scale back despite the spiraling need. 

Yemen’s cycle of crisis is not an accident. It is the predictable outcome of a war that has put civilians in the crosshairs.

The result—the world's worst humanitarian crisis is on track for its worst year yet. Famine alarms are ringing again as over half of Yemen’s population is going hungry. A record 50% of all children under 5 are acutely malnourished and 400,000 are at risk of dying without treatment.

To call this unraveling a tragedy would miss the point. Yemen’s cycle of crisis is not an accident. It is the predictable outcome of a war that has put civilians in the crosshairs. A hunger crisis is inevitable when nearly 1,000 markets, farms and food storage facilities are bombed and import restrictions price families out of basic goods. Malnutrition and disease outbreaks are what happens when health facilities are attacked or denied critical supplies. Child labor and marriage are among the only options left when the international community cuts funding in half and five million fewer Yemenis receive aid each month.

We are grateful for the sustained Congressional pressure that has helped drive US policy away from a failed war strategy. We applaud the Biden administration’s initial steps to pivot toward diplomacy. The severity of the humanitarian situation requires that the US build on the momentum quickly. We urge the US to do both the urgent work to save lives and the important work to end the conflict driving the need—without making one contingent on the other. Humanitarian steps are not political bargaining chips. Sequencing or conditioning them shows callous disregard for Yemeni lives. 

To this end, the US should take the following five steps:

First, rally more funding to avert the worst outcomes like famine. Humanitarians are operating with only a quarter of the funds required. The US should support a follow-on donor conference this year.

Second, push back against constraints on humanitarian operations across Yemen. NGOs need high-level engagement between the UN and donor countries with all authorities to remove persistent bureaucratic barriers. 

Third, ensure the unimpeded flow of commercial and humanitarian imports. Given the devastating humanitarian toll of the current fuel shortages, the US should prioritize pushing the Internationally Recognized Government to allow fuel ships to berth at Hodeidah port. The US should also push for all air and sea ports to be reopened to humanitarian and commercial traffic. 

Fourth, secure an immediate nationwide ceasefire. A halt to the fighting would protect civilians and the infrastructure they depend on. It would facilitate the delivery of much needed aid and help create space for a meaningful political process. 

Fifth, drive forward a new diplomatic framework. A sustained political settlement is the only way out of Yemen’s nightmare. Building on last week’s Security Council press statement, the US should support a new Security Council resolution that is more inclusive and addresses the thorniest issues, including the economic disputes increasingly at the heart of the conflict.

I offer my sincere thanks to the Subcommittee for the opportunity to share the challenges facing IRC’s Yemeni staff and clients. I look forward to your questions.

© 2021 International Rescue Committee

Amanda Catanzano

Amanda Catanzano, International Rescue Committee's Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy

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