Finding a role

Ray Collins on why the UK government must use its clout at the UN to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen

There are few countries, perhaps none, facing a humanitarian catastrophe on the scale which Yemen is now experiencing. After five years of civil war, 24 million people need lifesaving aid, and now that Covid-19 has arrived, fears have been realised that it could worsen.

The demand for humanitarian support is unparalleled, and this week representatives from 130 governments and aid agencies met to raise the required capital to fund this relief. They fell short of their target by $1bn.

As a result, the United Nations has warned that 30 out of a total of its 41 major programmes operating in Yemen may be ended or scaled back. And it has already had to suspend payments for 10,000 frontline healthcare workers, and halved food rations for 8.5 million people. For a country that has witnessed the destruction of half of its health system during this conflict and where 80% of the population is reliant on assistance, the consequences will be disastrous.

Today in the Lords, I have an urgent question to press the government to explain how it will back the global effort to prevent this cliff-edge moment. The £160 million already pledged by the Foreign Secretary is welcome, but there appears to be reluctance to utilise the UK’s influence to encourage others to follow suit.

Each and every country has a responsibility to those suffering in Yemen. But some of the key actors fuelling the conflict, such as the United Arab Emirates, are absolving themselves of responsibility. The UK must convey a message that it and others should support the aid effort.

Equally, ministers must understand that our responsibility to the people of Yemen extends beyond financial aid. For as long as the UK supplies the Saudi regime with arms to be used in the conflict, our government is allowing the war to continue.

The UK must also drive peace initiatives at the UN. As a leading contributor to its budget, and one of only five permanent members on the Security Council, few member-states hold as much clout as ours. The government must use this influence to bring about cease-fire initiatives.

To help the people of the Yemen, we must use our influence on the world-stage to both support the funding-drive and spearhead a conclusion to this terrible conflict. In responding to my question, I hope the Lord Minister will provide some detail and clarity today on the role that the UK will

Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is Shadow Minister for the UN and a member of both Labour’s DfID and Foreign Office team. He tweets @Lord_Collins

Published 4th June 2020

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