Special Briefing via Telephone on Yemen Humanitarian Aid

العربية العربية

Special Briefing Via Telephone
Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau Of Population, Refugees, And Migration
Matt Nims, Deputy Director Of Office Of Food For Peace, U.S. Agency For International Development
Tim Pounds, Director Of Office Of Arabian Peninsula Affairs, Bureau Of Near East And North African Affairs
May 6, 2020

Moderator:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s London Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and around the world.  This is an on-the-record conference call with Matt Nims, Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace; Richard Albright, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Tim Pounds, Director for the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

We will discuss humanitarian aid to Yemen and take questions from participating journalists.  Deputy Director Nims and DAS Albright will give brief remarks and then answer questions from journalists.  With that, I’ll turn it over to our speakers.

Mr. Nims:  Hello.  Thanks.  Thanks for that introduction.  This is Matt Nims.  As stated, I am the Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace and I am also the Response Director for USAID’s Yemen Humanitarian Response Team.

I think a good place to begin is highlighting Secretary Pompeo’s recent announcement this morning of nearly 225 million of additional emergency aid to support the UN World Food Program in Yemen.  This new USAID funding enables WFP to continue reaching more than 8 million people each month through their operations in southern Yemen, as well as a reduced operation in northern Yemen which WFP scaled down last month as a result of ongoing interference by Houthi officials.

We do support WFP for taking this difficult step to reduce operations in light of the Houthi’s ongoing aid obstruction, which violates globally accepted humanitarian principles and norms.  This interference – we’re talking about the Houthis blocking aid projects, seeking to profit from humanitarian funding, and harassing aid workers on the ground – has prevented critical, life-saving aid from reaching millions of Yemenis who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive.

In fact, the UN itself estimates that 284 million in NGO projects in Yemen, not just those funded by U.S. Government, are currently not operational, not able to operate, because of aid interference.  The majority of these stalled projects are in Houthi-controlled areas.  It is this Houthi aid interference that forced the United States, together with other donors and the UN, to recalibrate some aid programs in northern Yemen.

For the United States, we have suspended some funds, but we are talking about close to about 50 million out of the more than 1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance we have provided to the international organizations and non-governmental partners for the Yemen response since the beginning of fiscal year 2019.

We here are accountable to the U.S. taxpayer, and we cannot tolerate or abide the diversion of our humanitarian assistance meant for innocent men, women, and especially children who bear the brunt of Yemen’s conflict.  Nor would it be responsible for us to fund programs we know would not be implemented as they were designed due to the Houthi interference.  We hope to resume the suspended funding as soon as we can ensure that the aid will reach those in need.

In the meantime, as you can see from our announcement today, we stand ready to support our partners in Yemen where they are able to operate independently and at levels that enable them to have more oversight over their programs to ensure aid is reaching the people for whom it was intended without interference or delay.  We continue to support critical life-saving NGO activity in northern Yemen, as well as UN countrywide operations, and remain fully operational in the south.

And I think I’m going to pass this now to Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Albright.  Thank you.

DAS Albright:  Good day, everyone.  It’s a pleasure to join you today.  My name is Richard Albright.  I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration responsible for multilateral cooperation in Asia and the Near East, including Yemen.

And I’d like to just add to what Deputy Director Nims said by reiterating the great deal of concern we have regarding the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as well as the ongoing Houthi interference with aid operations that’s preventing life-saving assistance from reaching people who need it now more than ever.

We remain one of the largest donors to the countrywide response, and we’ve provided substantial support so far this year, including for COVID response efforts.  And I’d like to note that our funding for international organizations was provided through contributions and emergency appeals, such as for the COVID response efforts, and it’s not pledges.  We’re actually providing funding to humanitarian organizations, so the funding that the Secretary of State announced is money that is already allocated and going out to those organizations.  And we remain in constant communication with our partners, our international organization partners and non-governmental organizations, regarding their needs.

And at the same time, the United States has been coordinating closely with other donors.  The United Nations and humanitarian organizations take a strong and unified stance in advocating with the Houthis to end the obstruction in international aid operations immediately.  And we have seen some limited progress, but more needs to be done.  The Houthis have allowed some needs assessments to move forward, and they have revoked a tax they attempted to impose on aid.

However, we need to see concrete actions to remove impediments, including approvals for travel permits to deliver aid, signing of partner agreements, halting interference in the selection of beneficiaries, and allowing agencies to operate independently and neutrally on the basis of need.  Partners also need to be able to monitor their programs to ensure aid gets to the people who need it the most.

Included in the more than 1.1 billion the United States has provided to international organization and NGO partners for the Yemen humanitarian response since 2019 is more than two and a half million for the COVID-19 response efforts in Yemen over the past few weeks, including some new humanitarian assistance announced by the Secretary today for the COVID-19 response.  And that funding is supporting – that COVID funding is supporting programs operating throughout Yemen, not just in the north or the south.

And U.S. humanitarian funding also supports programs providing health, nutrition, clean water, emergency relief supplies, emergency shelter for newly displaced persons, and other critical aid.  It also includes – our aid also includes programs to assist vulnerable refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa living in Yemen, thousands of whom are currently being stigmatized and blamed for the spread of the COVID-19 in Yemen.

We’re supporting International Organization for Migration’s work with the migrant community as well as UNHCR’s work with refugees in order to help these communities prepare and cope with potential COVID outbreaks, meet basic needs, and return home if they choose, along with the support for the vulnerable Yemenis hosting them.

The significant contributions the U.S. has made to the Yemen response, including today’s announcement of nearly $225 million to go to the World Food Program, continue to support ongoing UN operations, and the United States is not the only donor in this response.  And just like other crisis situations around the globe, we are a catalyst for the humanitarian response in coordination with other donors, and we’ll continue to play that role in advocating for much-needed humanitarian access and adherence to humanitarian principles in Yemen.

Thanks very much.  I look forward to your questions.

Operator:  And we do not have any questions in the queue as of right now.

Moderator:  Our first question I’ll take from the Arabic side.  It’s from Al-Ittihad newspaper.  “Houthi groups have been disrupting relief operations in parts of Yemen, so how are you coordinating to get assistance delivered to Houthi-controlled areas?  How do you evaluate the humanitarian role of the UAE in Yemen?”

Mr. Nims:  So this is Matt Nims with USAID.  So the first:  How would we coordinate in those areas?  We have a very robust network of coordination that’s happening inside Yemen in the north as well as the south.  There is a – definitely a coalition of international NGOs with their local counterparts that exist inside the country, as well as United Nations has a network there as well.  The problem is, is they can’t actually go out and do all that they need to do because of the interference from the Houthis.  So what operations that do happen are very much hampered by the Houthis in this activity.  But the grouping itself is very collaborative of NGOs and international and local actors to get the aid out.

And I didn’t – the second part of the question had to do with UAE, I believe.  Over.

Moderator:  That is correct.  How do you evaluate the UAE’s role?

Mr. Nims:  That might fall a little bit more into the State – Department of State realm.  Over.

DAS Albright:  Yeah, this is Richard.  I would just say the UAE has provided significant support for the humanitarian response in Yemen, and we hope they will continue to do so.

Mr. Nims:   I think it’s also —

Moderator:  All right.  Our next —

Mr. Nims:  Yeah, that’s great.  I copy.  That’s it.

Moderator:  All right.  Our next question is from Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  “How do you view Saudi Arabia’s role in providing humanitarian aid to Yemen?  Some Yemenis have complained about Houthis preventing aid from reaching them.  How are you making sure that it gets to them?”

Mr. Nims:  So —

DAS Albright:  I’ll say on the Saudis – this is about Saudi Arabia’s role, right?

Moderator:  Correct.

DAS Albright:  Yeah. So I mean, Saudi Arabia has been the largest humanitarian contributor in Yemen, and we certainly welcome their contributions as well as that of other donors to meet the needs in Yemen.

We continue to call for all donors to provide their assistance in a timely manner and according to humanitarian principles.  And we also – and those humanitarian principles involve insisting that all parties in Yemen allow aid to reach those who need it without interference or delay.

Let me turn it over to Matt to take – he can build on that piece about the humanitarian principles and the Houthi access.

Mr. Nims:  I think the only part that I would add would be to reiterate we encourage all donors in not just pledging, but actually to fulfill those pledges in a timely manner.  This happens in a lot of places in the world, and Deputy – under – Deputy Assistant Secretary Albright stated when the U.S. puts out a dollar amount, that is money that has already been obligated.  In many instances, other countries, other donors might take a while to actually fulfill their pledge.  So the pledges that are out there, we encourage all donors to be able to live up and adhere to their pledge amount.

And as far as access, I mean, I think working within the international established system that we talked about, I talked about a bit on the ground, is really where this is key.  If, again, working through that structure, our partners, our life-saving partners aren’t able to get the access they need because of Houthi interference, it doesn’t really – whatever level of funding is there, it is not going to get to those who need it most.  Over.

Operator:  And I believe Christiaan James has – the phone has dropped, so if you want to continue —

DAS Albright:  On the other side.

Operator:  Yes.

Moderator:  Yes, hello? Hello.  Our next question is from Humeyra Pamuk.

Question:  Hello, can you hear me?

Mr. Nims:  Yes, we can.

DAS Albright:  Yes.

Question:  Sorry, I just got disconnected, so I just wanted to check.  Thanks for this.  I might have missed some parts of it when I was disconnected, but I have two questions.  I’m just wondering – obviously, you’ve got aid to some areas despite some obstructions and aid diversion.  I’m just wondering to what extent have these concerns been addressed.  And you mentioned some progress.  Can you elaborate on that a little bit?  How will you ensure this new money is properly used?

And then on WHO, I’m just curious if you have specific issue with how WHO operates in Yemen, or this decision developed where – has to do to comply with the President’s decision.  Thank you.

Mr. Nims:  So this is Matt again.  And as far as what progress has been made, yes, there has been some progress that has been made.  Sorry, there was some noise in my background.  We believe that there is a little bit of movement and certain access – certain assessments have been talked about and certain barriers have been beginning to move, but it’s been much more in the theoretical and talking space, and we haven’t seen a lot of action.  There still are not the level of personnel allowed into the country, there is still not the freedom of movement needed to do this, and there still is not the control and necessary vetting done on who actually gets the aid.

For example, I mean, our partners need to be able to be fully involved and really dictate who gets the aid.  This is not something that can be dictated by authorities.  This is based on heavy-duty assessments, this is based on data, this is based on getting out and being able to see what’s happening, and that hasn’t really been allowed to date and for quite some time.  So we are seeing a couple of phases, but we really do need to see a concerted effort on behalf of the Houthi organizations to allow our partners to do the [inaudible] that have been very, very well spelled out.

And then the second part of your question was what again?  I’m sorry.  Or maybe you remember that, Christiaan?

DAS Albright:  No, I think there was – the second part was related to the World Health Organization.  The decisions related to the World Health Organization are – relate to the organization globally.  They’re not Yemen-specific.  So when the President announced suspension of U.S. funding to the WHO pending a review of their performance, that’s globally, not Yemen-specific.

Moderator:  All right.  Our next question is from Badr Alqahtani.

Question:  Yes, hi.  Can you hear me?

Mr. Nims:  Yes.

Question:  Hello?

Mr. Nims:  We hear you.  Over.

Moderator:  Yes, he can hear you.

Question:  All right, thank you.  As we see all this generous aid that Yemen receives, we notice that the U.S., before, they cut the – the help that they sent to the WF, the Food Program, and now it seems like it’s coming back.  But how do you get the – how do we make sure that the Houthis will not control the aid again?  Because it seems like they’re still doing it, and even they have recorded some calls with the food program.  And we just wanted to know how can you make sure it’s not going to be stolen or misused?

Mr. Nims:  Thanks for that question.  So that is a great question, and I think that there has been some facts put out there about our funding to date – USAID’s funding to the World Food Program and their operations there.  It is important to understand that WFP operates a country-wide operation, so it does both activities; it mounts activities, life-saving food assistance, in the north as well as the south.  Our funding is to support the country-wide operation, and it’s the World Food Program itself that is ensuring that the aid that goes out is done in the humanitarian-acceptable way, with the people to have the oversight and monitoring available that exists in the humanitarian field.

So to answer your question how do we do this, we do this through our partners, and WFP through its own ability is able to do this.  It’s also important to understand that the UN WFP were the ones who are restricting their activities in the north because they aren’t able to have that level of oversight and assessment and access that is needed.  So with this next contribution, this supports the overall country operation, and it will be WFP that will ensure that it gets to places where they have access and follow the norms.  Copy.

Moderator:  All right.  Our next question comes from James Reinl.

Question:  Hi, guys. Testing, testing.  Can you hear me?

Mr. Nims:  Yes, we can.

Question:  Great stuff.  Listen, thanks very much for talking to us journalists today.  It’s really appreciated.  And I’d like to ask a couple of questions on the politics around this, because obviously as humanitarians, you love talking politics.  Was there any way in which the decision to cut USAID funding to Houthi-run Yemen, does that have – did it have anything to do with Pompeo, the State Department, and the maximum pressure campaign on Iran and its proxies?

The second question is:  Were the Saudis on board with your decision?  There were the big humanitarian providers in Yemen and also the coalition that’s militarily involved there, but of course, MBS now wants out of the war in Yemen, and presumably, these USAID cuts to the Houthi-run areas make it a little bit harder for the Saudis to achieve this goal.

Mr. Nims:  On that first question, absolutely not.  This had nothing to do from the USAID side at all with any type of operation or plans having to do with Iran.  Let’s just make that very, very clear.

And just to – further, this is something that from the humanitarian side the global humanitarian community has been wrestling with this issue as a unit, jointly, in different ways, for well past a year.  And it really has bubbled up to this level where you get a coalition of both donors, UN actors, as well as the NGOs coming together to say that we have reached really a point in the north where we cannot do our operations to the level that we need to, that operations aren’t reaching the most vulnerable, we don’t have good understanding of where all of this is going, and the level of interferences reach too high of a level.  That has nothing to do with the Iran part of this, and I think the Brussels conference that happened, now I think two or three months ago, where the coalition of donors and the NGOs and the UN came together, all condemning and saying that this has reached a level that is just unacceptable.  So on that part I want to be categorical.

On the KSA —

DAS Albright:  Can I just —

Mr. Nims:  Go ahead, please, Richard.

DAS Albright:  Sorry, I would just add that the Gulf countries participated in the Brussels conference, so they were all participating in this discussion on – this assessment of the challenges in Yemen and the way forward.  Over.

Moderator:  All right.  Our next question comes from the Independent Arabia.  “Are there [inaudible] with the spread of COVID-19?”

Mr. Nims:  Sorry, was there a question?

Moderator:  Yes, the next question comes from the Independent Arabia.  “Are there signs of a truce in Yemen with the spread of COVID-19?”

Mr. Nims:  Okay.  Tim, do you want to take that?

Mr. Pounds:  Yeah, I can hop on.  Thank you for that question.  We have – we have been very supportive of Martin Griffiths’ efforts, his hard work and his continuing campaign to establish a cease-fire over all of Yemen, and he has made some progress.  But we have yet to see the final results that all of us are hoping to achieve.  Our goals in Yemen remain unchanged.  We are working with our international partners to bring peace, prosperity, and security to Yemen.  And you know, we have deep concerns about Houthi obstruction in the north and urge all the actors to allow unimpeded humanitarian access, as my colleagues have stressed before, across Yemen.

We also call on all actors to respect Yemeni government institutions and the unity and territorial integrity of Yemen.  We continue to support in this effort President Hadi and the legitimate government of Yemen, and we ask that all parties, including the Southern Transition Council, work with the Republic of Yemen government and Saudi Arabia to implement the Riyadh Agreement, which is a critical piece of all of this.  This is the key of forming a unified government in Yemen that can address the needs of the Yemeni people and bring about the end of that war, and we urge the parties to find terms which they can agree to establish a cease-fire so that Martin Griffiths can take further steps forward.  Over.

Moderator:  All right, we have time for one more question.  From the Arabic line, France24 asks, “What is your comment on Yemen’s STC leader about self-rule?”

Mr. Pounds:  Well, if I may, I’ll just note that we are very much aware of the declaration that the STC made.  We think that it caused great concern in the region, and certainly to us.  As I just said, we call on all of the actors to respect the Yemeni government and its institutions and the unity and territorial integrity of Yemen.  We think – we think that all the parties need to bond together and work out their differences within the current government structure, which is led by President Hadi and a legitimate government of Yemen, and we would ask that the Southern Transition Council work with the Republic of Yemen Government and Saudi Arabia to implement the Riyadh Agreement.  Sorry for the redundancy, but I think that’s the key message for us.  Over.

Moderator:  All right, thank you very much.  That concludes today’s call.  Do we have any final remarks from any of the speakers?  Would any of the speakers like to make some final remarks?

Mr. Nims:  I think we’re good on this side, thank you.

DAS Albright:  Yeah, thanks.

Moderator:  All right.  I want to thank our speakers for joining us and our callers for participating today.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the London Hub at [email protected]  Thank you.

This translation is provided as a courtesy and only the original English source should be considered authoritative.
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