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Trump administration designation of Ansar Allah heightens risk of large-scale famine in Yemen
by WFP, OCHA, CARE, NRC, ACAPS, IRC, agencies
Jan. 2021
UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, 14 January 2021
The most urgent priority in Yemen right now is to prevent a massive famine. The data show that 16 million people will go hungry this year. Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine. Another 5 million are just one step behind them.
Every decision the world makes right now must take this into account.
On Sunday, the United States announced it will designate Ansar Allah as a specially designated terrorist entity and foreign terrorist organization (or FTO) under US domestic law.
For months, aid agencies have unanimously opposed this designation. They believe it will accelerate Yemen’s slide into a large-scale famine.
The reasons agencies believe that are not well enough understood in some quarters, so I am going to use most of my time today explaining them.
Many of you will recall that I told the Security Council last month that Yemen imports 90 per cent of its food. Nearly all that food is brought in through commercial channels. Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market. Aid agencies cannot – they simply cannot - replace the commercial import system.
What this means is that what the commercial importers do is the single biggest determinant of life and death in Yemen.
I also told the Council last month that we had been talking to the commercial traders and asking them what impact the mooted US designation, as it was then, would have on them. They told us – and I told you – that they were not sure they would be able to continue importing food into Yemen in those circumstances.
They thought the suppliers, bankers, shippers and insurers they do business with could decline to do business with them if the designation proceeded.
You and I may think that the suppliers, bankers, insurers and shippers should behave differently. That does not matter. What matters is what they decide to do.
So we went back to the commercial traders over the last few days to ask what they now think, given that the designation has now happened.
Already, Yemenis are crowding into to markets and shops to stockpile whatever they can afford. Families are terrified that no more food or other supplies will make it into the country.
The Yemeni companies who bring in most of the food are using words like “disaster”, “havoc”, and “unimaginable” when they describe to us what they fear is coming.
For years, these companies have been moving mountains to sustain their very risk-averse global supply chains – including the suppliers, banks, insurers and shipping lines.
Some suppliers, banks, insurers and shippers are ringing up their Yemeni partners and saying they now plan to walk away from Yemen altogether. They say the risks are too high. They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in US regulatory action which would put them out of business or into jail.
Some of the Yemeni traders’ suppliers, bankers, shippers and insurers are saying they are hoping they can keep going. If they can, they say, their best-case estimate is that costs could go up by 400 per cent. That will make it too expensive for many importers to keep doing business. And in any case, hardly anyone in Yemen could afford to buy food brought in at those prices.
The United States has said it will introduce licences so that some humanitarian aid and imports can continue.
Would that help? Well, first, those licences do not yet exist. Aid agencies have no confirmed details on how they will work or what activities will be eligible. The details apparently won’t be ready until the day that the designation takes force, on 19 January.
But second, licences and exemptions for humanitarian agencies will not solve the problem. As I have said, it is not humanitarian agencies who are importing most of the food.
This is not the only problem we face. You’ve heard me explain many times what is needed to prevent famine in Yemen: protection of civilians, access for aid workers, funding for the aid operation, support for the economy and peace.
Let’s start with protection of civilians. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack on Aden airport that Martin just described. More than twenty people died – including three humanitarian workers. Dozens more people were injured.
Humanitarian access problems in Government-held areas have become worse in the last few months. Recent incidents include warehouse break-ins, detention of aid workers, seizure of relief items and attacks on humanitarian premises. The trend is worrying.
But the most severe challenges to rapid and unimpeded access remain in the north. I have no good news on that to report this month. And I don’t on funding for the aid operation either.
Humanitarian crises need continuous funding until the emergency is over. Past contributions to the aid operation in Yemen saved millions of lives. But those past contributions will not save a single life tomorrow or the next day. That money has already been spent.
In 2020, we received $1.7 billion for the UN response plan. About half of what we needed. And less than half of what we got the year before. As you know, most of the reduction was because Gulf donors gave much less last year.
The aid operation used to help 13.5 million people every month. Now we’re helping just over 9 million. Less money means stopping key programmes, including food aid. David will tell you what is going to happen next.
The 2021 response plan will be released next month. It will be similar to the 2020 plan – probably around $3.4 billion. We call on donors to pledge generously and to disburse funds quickly.
On the economy, beyond what I have said already let me just repeat that Yemen needs regular foreign-exchange injections to stabilize the currency, finance critical import flows and lower prices in local markets. This worked well in the past, and it could work again.
Let me, for the avoidance of doubt, summarize my main message today.
First, what is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly forty years. Second, would licences and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that? The answer is no. Third, well, what would prevent it? A reversal of the decision. And, of course, action on all the other issues we brief you on every month.
The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley: “We are struggling now without the designation. With the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen,” he said. "This designation, it needs to be re-assessed, it needs to be re-evaluated, and, quite frankly, it needs to be reversed.”
Mr. Beasley added that Yemen is among several countries facing famine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these crises.
The WFP chief called for Gulf States “to pick up the humanitarian financial tab for this problem in Yemen”, and urged the Council and world leaders to apply pressure on the warring parties to end their fighting.
“I can assure you that Mark Lowcock and I will be before you pretty soon talking about other countries,” he said. “And if we can’t solve this one - this is man-made completely - shame on us."
* ACAPS: US terrorist designation of Ansar Allah: Risk alert and humanitarian impact, report:

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2020 Global Humanitarian Policy Forum: Background Briefing
by UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs
Dec. 2020
2020 has been a momentous year. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated people around the world, leaving us with a sense of collective vulnerability and testing our solidarity at community, national and international levels.
The pandemic has also thrust us into the midst of a historic socio-economic crisis that is challenging progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), potentially stifling aid budgets and leaving many countries with more debt, poverty and people in need of even the most basic services and commodities.
At the same time, the world has continued to witness increasing geopolitical tensions and challenges to multilateral cooperation; a growing urgency to deal with matters of inclusion and race; the devastating effects of climate change; and growing inequality, fragility and vulnerability. The convergence of these challenges has left no sector, system ororganization untouched.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a plethora of new humanitarian challenges while compounding existing ones. As of 1 December 2020, there have been 62,844,837 reported cases of and 1,465,144 deaths from COVID-19. In addition, the pandemic’s stress on public health systems has impacted health treatments and services for other diseases and conditions, disproportionately affecting lower-and middle-income countries and undermining decades of progress.
Advances in reducing mortality rates are likely to be set back by 10 years for Tuberculosis and AIDS, and by 20 years for Malaria. Progress in eradicating Poliovirus and reducing Measles through immunization has been severely threatened.
Vulnerable and marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Travel restrictions and lockdowns are hindering women’s access to health services. Infant mortality rates are expected to rise. Racial and ethnic minorities suffer from inequities in social determinants such as discrimination, wealth gaps, and health care access and utilization.
Protracted displacement combined with deteriorating health and socio-economic conditions are leading to widespread despair among refugee and IDP populations. And, as the demand for mental health services surges, the pandemic has disrupted or halted suchservices in 93 per cent of countries worldwide.
Socio-Economic Downturn
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, with the broadest collapse in per capita income since 1870. Remittance flows to low-and middle-income countries are expected to drop by around 20 per cent compared to 2019, and at least 33 million people are at risk of facing hunger as a result. About 1.6 billion informal workers have lost 60 per cent of their incomes, and 55 per cent of the world’s population are not covered by social insurance or assistance.
Foreign direct investment is expected to decline by over 35 per cent and, by 2021, official development assistance may see an 85 per cent decline from 2018. COVID-19 may well push 150 million people into extreme poverty. Vulnerable and marginalized groups are bearing the brunt ofthe pandemic’s socio-economic impacts.
Racial and ethnic minorities have been hard hit by wage and job losses. Women and girls are at particular risk of secondary impacts, including loss of earnings and livelihoods and increased exposure to violence. Widespread loss of livelihoods and an increase in poverty among refugee populations is expected as access to the labor market, social safety nets, and humanitarian aiddeteriorates.
And more than a decade of progress in reducing child poverty and deprivation could be reversed. At the height of lockdowns, nearly 1.5 billion students were affected by school closures, andat least one third of school children globally (463 million) remain cut off from education. Around 24 million children are projected to drop out of school, with children less likely to return the longer they are out of school in humanitarian settings. A further 13 million child marriages are estimated by the end of the decade.
Humanitarian needs are increasingly resulting from acute social injustice, institutional inequality, and state-sanctioned violence against particular groups and communities.Chronic under-investment in public health and persistent barriers to accessing health services have exacerbated vulnerabilities of poor and marginalized groups during the COVID-19 pandemic,not only to its health and economic effects, but also to environmental harms such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
The death of George Floyd and global #BlackLivesMatter protests have reinvigorated scrutiny of racism and filtered out issues of systemic inequality, power imbalances and slow progress towards localization.
Further, unequal access to technology during the COVID-19 pandemic has created gaping disparities in people’s ability to pursue education and livelihood opportunities. Those with the ability to work remotely were able to adapt, while those without internet or access to technology were left behind. Roughly 80 per cent of children in high income countries but only 50 per cent of children in lower income countries had access to distance learning. Realizing the ‘digital promise’ must not come at the expense of a widening digital divide.
Urban areas have become the epicenter of the pandemic, with an estimated 95 per cent of all reported COVID-19 cases. Displaced populations, particularly urban Internally Displaced Persons, have suffered increased protection risks posed by overcrowded and substandard living conditions and inadequate access to water, sanitation and healthcare. Movement constraints have hindered voluntary returns or escape from insecurity, and asylum procedures have been impeded in some countries.
Lockdowns have created a ‘shadow pandemic’ of sexual and gender-based violence now affecting more than one in three women and girls worldwide. As COVID-19 continues to strain health services, essential services such as domestic violence shelters and helplines have reached capacity.
Humanitarian access has been constrained by measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 including global movement restrictions which have resulted in delays, additional costs and the partial suspension of humanitarian activities.
And despite widespread support for the UN Secretary-General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire, further conflict and violence may result from the pandemic as countries face civil unrest, political destabilization, and increases in crime, anti-refugee sentiment and suspicion of humanitarian workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced existing geo-political tensions and continuing challenges to multilateral cooperation. As countries focused on the domestic pandemic response, resources were diverted away from international assistance. In some countries, weak central structures shifted the burden of the response towards local actors and contributed to an uneven pandemic response.
Misinformation and disinformation spread widely over the internet and through social media and hampered the COVID-19 response, with some populations actively resisting public health measures. At the same time, the pandemic was widely cited as a pretext to limit access to information, censor critical speech, and justify expanded surveillance powers.
While the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities, it could also serve as an accelerator of change that has already begun or become recognized as inevitable over the last decade.
The speed, and success of vaccine and treatment research and development could reinvigorate efforts towards multilateral, cross-sector collaboration. Refocused attention on the key role of local actors as front-line responders resulting from travel and movement restrictions could translate into progress on long-standing localization commitments.
The urgent need to prevent the losses of the socio-economic crisis from becoming permanent could lead to an upscaling in programmes for vulnerable and marginalized groups; accelerated work across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus; and increased focus on preparedness, prevention, organizational readiness and anticipatory action.
Investments in responsible and inclusive technology could support earlier, faster and more effective action.The spotlight on racism and discrimination could bolster efforts towards achieving true equality,diversity, and equal representation. And targeted investments in governance, social protection, green economy and digitalization could get us back on track to achieve the SDGs.
* The pandemic in countries with humanitarian crises: What’s happened so far and what’s coming next? A conversation with Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:

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