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The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has never been worse
by OCHA, Human Rights Watch, agencies
28 July 2020
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock: Briefing to the Security Council on Yemen, New York, 28 July 2020:
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has never been worse. I want to be clear on that point. Famine is again on the horizon. Conflict is again escalating. The economy is again in tatters. Humanitarian agencies are again nearly broke.
And then the new problems. COVID-19 is spreading out of control. And we have the sorry saga of the Safer tanker. I promised when I briefed you the week before last that I would update you on the Safer today. There has been no progress.
As I told you last time, the thing that worries me most about the Safer is that if it explodes or leaks, the oil spilled could, the technical experts have told us, put the ports of Hudaydah and Saleef out of action for weeks – or even months.
Some of you will remember that in late 2017, and again in late 2018, I warned that the coalition blockade and then their mooted attack on Hudaydah was likely to plunge Yemen into famine. Those warnings were heeded. The worst was avoided.
It would then be the unhappiest of ironies if the failure of Houthi authorities to allow us to deal with the tanker were to be the cause of the loss of the ports. The consequences would be just as I warned in 2017 and 2018. I hope wiser counsels will prevail.
The rhetoric on Yemen is often reassuring, and the actions relentlessly ruinous.
I will brief you today on five issues: protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding, the economy and progress towards peace.
With respect to the protection of civilians, hostilities are intensifying across the country. There are now 43 active front lines in Yemen – compared to 33 in January.
The number of conflict incidents causing civilian harm increased in the second quarter of the year – for the third quarter in a row. I am particularly concerned at escalating hostilities in Marib, including recent shelling incidents. Nearly 1 million displaced people are sheltering in and around Marib city. If there is an assault on the city, we will almost certainly see waves of already vulnerable people flee the area.
I call on the parties to do everything possible to de-escalate the violence now, both in Marib and across the country. Yemenis need a nationwide ceasefire.
Overall, efforts to improve the operating environment in the north, where we have had most problems, are progressing. Of course, there is more to be done. In the coming weeks, we will work with everyone to build on the good practices we’ve seen recently on approving project agreements and other issues.
We also want to see the long-planned World Food Programme pilot begin for biometric registration of food aid recipients. After delaying for several weeks, the Coalition has now agreed that the technical equipment can be shipped to Yemen, which is welcome. I urge the Houthi authorities to move quickly to implement the pilot.
Meanwhile, in the south, we continue to have serious concerns, with an uptick in violent incidents targeting humanitarian assets, and local authorities adding new bureaucratic requirements for aid agencies.
My third point is funding for the aid operation, which is, frankly, on the verge of collapse. We have already seen severe cuts to many of our most essential activities.
We used to provide food to 13 million hungry people every month in Yemen. Because of funding cuts, only 5 million of these people are still getting full rations. Eight million have had their rations cut in half. Similar cuts are affecting millions of people who rely on aid for water, healthcare and other needs.
Aid organizations have so far received about 18 per cent of what we need for this year’s humanitarian response plan.
What had in recent years been one of the better funded humanitarian operations around the world is now one of the most underfunded.
In August, that will mean a 50 per cent cut to water and sanitation programmes in 15 cities around the country. We will also have to stop hygiene activities for people who recently fled their homes.
In September, nearly 400 health facilities – including 189 hospitals – will lose supplies of clean water and essential medicines. That could cut off health care for 9 million people.
Also in September, we will run out of money to treat more than a quarter of a million children who are suffering from severe malnutrition. Without treatment, those children will die.
It is not difficult to predict the effects of less food, less water and less healthcare in Yemen. Without more funding, we should all expect large increases in hunger, malnutrition, cholera. We should expect many more people to die.
And just as we are cutting programmes, demands for assistance are set to increase sharply. Last week, a new food security survey was released covering 133 districts controlled by the Government of Yemen.
About 40 per cent of people in these areas are now estimated to be highly food insecure – an increase from 25 per cent at the start of the year.
Sixteen districts are now categorized as “Phase 4”, which is one step away from famine conditions. At the beginning of the year, just two districts had been rated as “Phase 4”.
In the coming weeks, we will have results from a similar assessment in Houthi controlled areas, where funding cuts required significant reductions in food aid this year. So again, I implore donors to pay their pledges immediately. I urge those with undisbursed pledges to pay now. There is no time to lose. I also call on Yemen’s neighbours in the Gulf to increase their support. The sharp drop in pledges and payments from Gulf countries this year is the main reason the resource gap remains so large.
Yemen’s economy, which is in free fall. When the risk of famine was greatest in late 2018, the exchange rate had fallen to 800 Yemeni rial to the US dollar. On its current trajectory, economists predict the value of the rial will drop to 1,000 to the dollar in the coming months. Already in some areas, the rate has been well above 700 rial for weeks.
The exchange rate is one of the major determinants of the price of food and other commodities – nearly all of which are imported. In other words, as the rial collapses, fewer people will eat.
One solution is for the Government to finance commercial imports. But the Government has run out of foreign exchange. A deposit by Saudi Arabia in the Central Bank is nearly depleted, and oil revenue – a major source of Government income – has collapsed.
Yemen needs regular foreign exchange injections to help stabilize the rial, underwrite essential imports and pay salaries. When Saudi Arabia did this in the past, it was effective.
Fuel is another key determinant of basic commodity prices. Fuel is needed to distribute goods around the country, pump drinking water and power basic services. In June, only 8,100 metric tons of commercial fuel imports reached Hudaydah – by far the lowest amount ever recorded.
As a result, drinking water prices have increased, in some cases more than doubling within a few weeks. Aid agencies are increasingly affected, with some reporting they can no longer travel to communities to deliver assistance because there is no fuel. As we know, famine is stalking the country again, and the fuel shortages are also behind sharply escalating food prices.
On top of these challenges, many Yemenis are losing any remaining income at an alarming rate. COVID-19 has cut into remittances – long the country’s invisible life-line – by as much as 70 per cent. A recent survey found that about half of families have lost at least 50 per cent of their income since April.
My fifth point is progress towards peace. With adequate funding, humanitarian agencies can address the most immediate needs in Yemen and prevent a renewed slide towards famine.
This would spare millions of people from needless suffering, which would in turn help to create more space for the political process. The choice before the world is the same as last month: help Yemen now, or watch the country fall into the abyss.
July 27, 2020
An avoidable disaster: Allow UN to secure decaying oil supertanker. (Human Rights Watch)
Houthi authorities in Yemen should immediately permit United Nations experts access to a supertanker moored off Yemen’s coast that risks spilling over a million barrels of crude oil into the Red Sea.
The UN says a spill would have catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences, including destroying livelihoods and shutting down the port of Hodeida, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis who depend on commercial imports and humanitarian aid.
The aging tanker, known as “the Safer” and owned by the Yemeni state-run Safer Exploration and Production Operations Company (SEPOC), has been stranded 5 nautical miles off Yemen’s coast and 32 nautical miles from Hodeida since 2015. In late May 2020, seawater entered the tanker’s engine compartment. While divers temporarily fixed the leak, the incident has heightened concern about the risks of an oil spill.
In early July, the Houthis, who control the area, said they would allow the UN to carry out an assessment mission, but as of July 24, the UN had not received the necessary permits for its staff to board the tanker. UN attempts in 2019 to obtain permission failed.
“The Houthi authorities are recklessly delaying UN experts’ access to the deteriorating oil tanker that threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen’s war,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN’s top experts are on standby to prevent the worst and should immediately be allowed on board the vessel.”
The storage tanker holds an estimated 1.1 million barrels of crude oil – 4 times as much as spilled during the catastrophic 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. A 430-kilometer pipeline connects Yemen’s oil fields in Marib governorate to the tanker. Oil was previously transferred from the tanker to other vessels for export, until the Houthis took control of the nearby coastline in early 2015.
Yemen’s conflict involves a Saudi-led coalition, which backs the internationally recognized Yemeni government, against Houthi forces, who control much of northern and central Yemen, including Hodeida. The conflict and a decade of political and economic crisis have turned the country into what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Yemen relies on commercial imports and aid for between 80 and 90 percent of its basic needs, about 70 percent of which enter the country through Hodeida.
Since 2015, the Yemeni state-run Safer Exploration and Production Operations Company has been unable to afford maintenance costs for the tanker, resulting in corrosion and a dangerous build-up of potentially flammable gases. Experts say the lack of maintenance since 2015 has irreversibly damaged the ship.
On July 16, 2020, the UN warned of a risk of an explosion that could spill most or all of the oil into the Red Sea. The same day, the head of the UN’s environmental agency highlighted the likely harm an oil spill would cause. It said such a spill could destroy Red Sea ecosystems on which almost 30 million people depend, including at least 125,000 Yemeni fishermen and 1.6 million people in their communities who already depend heavily on humanitarian aid.
The UN also said a spill would destroy 500 square kilometers of agricultural land used by about 3 million farmers, 8,000 water wells, and create harmful levels of air pollutants affecting over 8 million people.
And it said that a spill would close the Hodeida and Saleef ports for up to 6 months, which would seriously affect Yemen’s capacity to import 90 percent of its food and other essential aid and commercial commodities.
Others have pointed to the risk a spill poses to Saudi Arabia’s desalinization plants, on which millions of people depend for drinking water. A spill could also cripple one of the world’s busiest commercial shipping routes through the Red Sea, which accounts for about 10 percent of world trade.
The UN Environment Programme reported that the age and condition of the Safer means the safest option to secure it would most likely involve removing the oil, towing the tanker to a secure port, and dismantling it in an environmentally sound way.
Responding to an oil spill involving the Safer would be an especially daunting challenge. The tanker is located near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes on the edge of a war zone. A rapid cleanup operation would involve complicated regional political dynamics and most likely delays from Covid-19 measures.
The impact of an oil spill on livelihoods, access to water and food, and on fuel prices could significantly exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The UN has presented the Houthi leadership with evidence that an oil spill from the tanker would destroy the livelihoods of fishermen and others on whom millions of people depend for food.
Houthi authorities should act to protect the human rights of everyone on territory they control, including the right to life, to an adequate standard of living, to health, and to food and water. Under international humanitarian law, they have an obligation to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations at risk.
On June 29, the UN Security Council called on the Houthi leadership “to immediately grant unconditional access for United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition, conduct any possible urgent repairs, and make recommendations for the safe extraction of the oil.”
Houthi authorities should urgently issue permits to members of the UN assessment team, facilitate their access to the tanker, and follow the UN’s recommendations on securing the tanker and its oil.
Iran, which has supported the Houthis and which transports significant amounts of oil through the Red Sea each year, should encourage the Houthis to cooperate with the UN. Regional states, including Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Jordan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, should work closely with the UN to identify ways in which they can help convince the Houthis to cooperate. The UN Security Council should inform the Houthis that a failure to promptly address the issue could result in additional targeted sanctions.
“Governments concerned about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis should recognize the danger the Safer tanker poses and press for immediate action to avert yet another tragedy,” Human Rights Watch said. “The continued refusal to allow UN access could result in devastating consequences for the environment and people across Yemen and the wider region.”

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Democratizing data is key for addressing inequalities during COVID-19
by Open Global Rights, Gates Foundation
July 2020
Democratizing data is key for addressing inequalities during COVID-19, by Francesca Feruglio & Maria Silvia Emanuelli, Imogen Richmond-Bishop & Brian Omala for Open Global Rights.
Data plays a crucial role in informing public policies and decision-making. Having representative and inclusive data is important, because it provides the foundation upon which public policies are designed, implemented, funded, and monitored.
If individuals and groups are not represented in data, any decisions based on that data will not address specific issues that they face. The lack of data about already marginalized communities or populations can make it hard to reveal, and therefore dismantle, discriminatory policies and practices. Exclusion in data—which often reflects society’s values and biases about who and what counts—therefore means exclusion in reality.
This is even more important in the current context of COVID-19, where the lack of data on specific groups, particularly marginalized ones, has resulted in serious shortfalls in the development and implementation of measures to address the needs of all.
Official counting for the pandemic has rarely reflected the true impact of the pandemic on less visible groups, such as people living in informal settlements, women and girls, and migrants.
Inclusive data is a human rights issue
Last month, a landmark decision on data inclusivity as a human rights issue came out of the Supreme Court in Mexico, in a case brought by TECHO Mexico against the Institute for National Statistics (INEGI). This case successfully challenged the exclusion of informal settlements from Mexico’s census.
In an amicus submission to the Court, members from the International Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) argued that the lack of accurate and comprehensive data over the situation of people living in informal settlements is a breach of several states’ human rights obligations—especially those that are meant to prevent and address all forms of discrimination.
This must begin with identifying unequal enjoyment of human rights for all groups and invididuals. Secondly, human rights treaties mandate states to monitor the progress on realizing economic, social and cultural rights for all, which requires comprehensive data collection.
Thirdly, the lack of essential data over socioeconomic conditions of different groups prevents them from meaningfully participating in policy and decision making, which is vital in any democracy.
The amicus rested on ESCR-Net’s work in articulating a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to data through a set of principles on data and ESCR grounded in human rights obligations.
On the 17th of June, Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ordered INEGI to collect disaggregated information about irregular or informal settlements in poverty situations citing, among other considerations, international human rights law.
This landmark decision affirms the role of official data to inform policies that adequately respond to the needs of different groups.
It also comes at a very significant turn for the country, as an official, publicly accessible information collection system—with updated data about access to housing and water in different areas, including informal settlements—would have made a significant difference in developing and implementing preventive measures appropriate to different needs, and strengthening the ability to respond to emergency situations, like the current pandemic.
In the face of these gaps, civil society organizations partnered with academics to carry out a survey in the country's capital to get a picture of living conditions (including housing, access to water and basic services) and assess the effectiveness of government’s measures to tackle COVID-19. The survey results shed light on worrying trends and allowed civil society organizations to propose solutions on realizing the right to adequate housing.
Our members in other countries pointed at similar trends. In Kenya, like elsewhere, women and girls bear disproportionate impacts of the pandemic—from an increase in domestic and gender based-violence, loss of livelihood (as women are overrepresented in the informal workforce), and higher risk and exposure to the pandemic due to women comprising a bigger proportion of healthcare workers. Also, due to deep-rooted inequalities, the pandemic has curtailed access to sexual and reproductive health services for many women and girls.
However, the government has not monitored or assessed the implications of COVID-19 on access to services by women and girls or any negative outcomes this has likely led to, such as increases in the spread of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions. The lack of specific data has also reflected budget allocations.
Estimates for Kenya’s 2020-21 budget show that most of the healthcare allocation is for the recruitment of health workers, supply of beds, and hospital infrastructures. While laudable, these efforts should be informed by the lived experiences of people in vulnerable positions, especially women and girls who are disproportionately affected due to their sex, gender and steer policymakers toward solutions that do not exacerbate their vulnerabilities or magnify existing inequality.
Another example comes from the UK, which gathers mountains of data. In relation to COVID-19, the data gathered so far has helped re-affirm the serious health consequences of socio-economic inequality and racial discrimination. The Office for National Statistics found that mortality rates for COVID-19 are disproportionately high for people who are Black and Minority Ethnic as well as for those who live in the most deprived areas of England where the mortality rate was over double what it was in the least deprived areas.
However, human rights campaigners in the UK are constantly confronting the limitations of the data and pushing for it to be expanded to include all people as well as to measure data in a more holistic way. It was only last year after intense pressure from civil society that questions on household food insecurity were included in a consistent way in a national survey.
And just this month, the government conceded that they do not have estimates on the number of migrants in the UK who are affected by the No Recourse to Public Funds condition, a condition that limits a person’s access to state support, including unemployment support—meaning a great number of people with NRPF are at risk or currently live in extreme poverty.
Towards more democratic data
The pandemic highlighted the enormous costs to human rights and public policy inherent in the decision (whether intentional or not) to exclude certain groups from official counting.
As demonstrated by the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Mexico, advocates can use the human rights framework to demand more inclusive and accurate data and therefore better policymaking. A human rights-based approach to data can help correct imbalances in power and enable participation and inclusion of marginalised groups in decision-making.
For instance, this means that states should not only gather accurate, comprehensive and up to date on economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), but also meaningfully involve communities in deciding which data should be collected to how it should be used, and pay adequate attention to data which reflects communities’ perspectives and knowledge—often neglected and deemed to be not “objective” or legitimate.
While data alone is not enough to develop adequate policies, and many governments do not change their course even when faced with strong evidence, nonetheless it provides a tool for domestic campaigners to help advocate for better policy decisions.
We hope that our set of principles on data and ESCR will help civil society organizations advocate for data that reflects people’s lived experiences and foregrounds human rights, and in so doing enables more democratic decision-making.
July 2020
Sexist and incomplete data hold back the world’s COVID-19 response, by Melinda Gates - co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
How many women have died of Covid-19? How many women have lost their jobs in the economic crisis it created? And how many have had to stop working because schools and day cares have closed and now have to take on unforeseen and added child care responsibilities?
I don’t know the full answer to any of these questions. No one does. When it comes to the pandemic and its effect on women, too often we just don’t have the numbers.
Earlier this month, I  wrote an article in the journal Foreign Affairs about how the pandemic is affecting women differently than men. We know, for instance, that  domestic violence is increasing  amid lockdowns and that women’s jobs  are more likely to be cut. But the truth is, we don’t have a full sense of the scale: According to  a report  from Data2X and Open Data Watch, there isn’t nearly enough information to understand the effects of the crisis on unpaid care work, employment in the informal economy, or the well-being of girls. The list goes on.
Even when it comes to the virus itself, the data is spotty and often blind to sex: As of July 24,  only 64 governments  had provided information on Covid-19 cases and deaths fully broken down by sex.
Preliminary analysis  in June from the World Health Organization and UN Women noted that less than half of reported cases included information on both sex and age. Data disaggregated by other demographic factors has been even  harder to come by.
Without a clear picture of the devastation, responses to Covid-19 risk leaving out millions of women and girls and slowing recovery. If governments, for instance, aren’t counting the number of women who’ve had to drop out of the workforce, they may overlook the urgent need for child care legislation.
No business would make decisions based on information that excludes 50% of its customers; governments shouldn’t either. Here are four things all governments must do immediately.
First, countries should collect and report data on Covid-19 tests, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that is disaggregated at the very least by sex and age. This disease is attacking all of humanity, though not equally, and we need to understand the different experiences of different populations.
In the United States, for example, we have a lot to learn about how Covid-19 affects  women of color. That’s because states have been slow to provide data systematically broken down by  sex or  race—and it’s been even harder to find data cut by both. Indeed, wherever possible, countries should disaggregate data by these factors and more.
Second, governments and other organizations should use current and future data collection efforts to close existing gender data gaps.
In the coming months, there will be a flurry of data gathered on issues related to the recovery, from health to education to the results of stimulus programs. Researchers need to ensure these studies include the experiences of women and girls.
In the short term, organizations can tap into technical resources like the University of California, San Diego’s  EMERGE project  (which is supported by the Gates Foundation). It has developed guidance and tools that can be used in already planned surveys to capture gender data on issues from unpaid work to physical and mental health..
Moreover, the world should seize this moment to deepen the knowledge base about specific challenges facing women and girls. For example, although the World Health Organization estimates that  1 in 3 women globally  has experienced gender-based violence, when it comes to country-level data, most countries only have blanks and question marks.
Because policymakers do not know the true extent of violence against women inside their borders, they don’t set aside sufficient funding for it in their budgets. More data could mean more funding for prevention and response, more effective solutions, and ultimately less violence.
Third, to rebuild now as well as to prepare for future emergencies, countries need to invest in the ability of national statistics offices to collect, disaggregate, and analyze data. In a recent survey, about half of the statistics offices in low and middle-income countries  reported a funding  decrease  because of the outbreak. That is a shortsighted move. An investment in better data today will come back to us in a healthier, better prepared tomorrow.
Fourth, countries must commit to using  gender data to develop and implement evidence-based policies. The best data in the world won’t do much good if they sit on a shelf collecting dust. Put to work, though, data can help craft effective policies.
Data can make the invisible visible, and Covid-19 is showing us how important it is to see every aspect of a crisis. It’s time governments around the world start basing their pandemic response on data that are more complete, more reliable, and less sexist.


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