Humanitarian Assistance to Yemen

Special Briefing
Kelly Clements
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Christa Capozzola
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
May 21, 2012

MR. VENTRELL: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining the call. Today we have with us Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Kelly Clements and USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Christa Capozzola, and they are both going to be speaking on the record today about the humanitarian – about the U.S. Government’s humanitarian assistance to Yemen.

So without further ado, I’m going to first turn it over to DAS Clements. Go ahead.

MS. CLEMENTS: Actually, I’m going to turn it over to DAA Capozzola to start off, and I’ll follow.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay, we’ll start first with the USAID and then back to --

MS. CAPOZZOLA: And then back to Kelly, yes. Thanks, Kelly. Hi, everybody. It’s Christa Capozzola. I’m just going to make a few brief remarks, and so will Kelly, and then we’ll open it up for questions.

To begin, the continued conflicts have exacerbated an already serious humanitarian situation in Yemen. Rising food prices, widespread displacement, and unemployment have contributed to significantly higher malnutrition levels throughout the country over the last couple of years. And as you know, that increases the risk of disease as well as permanent physical and cognitive impairment. Ten million people in Yemen are now food insecure. That means that more than 40 percent of the population does not have reliable access to food. Of those 10 million, 1 million children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition.

In the face of this worsening situation, the United States is focused on providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those in need in Yemen. More importantly, we are addressing the needs in a way that helps build resilience and stability. To date in this fiscal year, the United States is providing over 73 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict. This includes over 47 million in emergency food assistance.

The assistance that we’re providing includes things like 37,000 metric tons of wheat and other food items; over $11 million for food vouchers that allow people to purchase food in local markets; third, supplementary nutrition programs to help those suffering from the worst forms of malnutrition; mobile medical clinics and emergency supplies; clean water, sanitation, and hygiene programs that help prevent disease outbreaks; and livelihoods programs that help people get back on their feet and jumpstart the struggling economy.

Something as simple as providing a temporary job to help rebuild community water systems or helping to restore assets like livestock can put enough money in a family’s pocket to get them through a tough time. These livelihoods programs also help build community assets for the longer term and stabilize the economy. So we’re working to help families get through the crisis, but also to build long-term resilience.

The United States continues to urge other donors to support the international humanitarian organizations working to provide lifesaving assistance in Yemen. Addressing these urgent needs of the Yemeni people is an important foundation for the sustainable economic and political development that Yemenis are working hard to achieve right now.

Thank you, and I’ll turn it over now to Kelly to make her opening remarks.

MS. CLEMENTS: Thanks very much, Christa. To echo Christa’s comments, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is one of the worst in the world. In addition to what you have heard about food insecurity and global acute malnutrition, conflicts continue to displace citizens and hamper relief efforts of the UN and humanitarian organizations. The UN estimates that there are over 550,000 displaced Yemeni in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as well as the communities that are hosting them. Humanitarian organizations need safe access to reach those in need, save lives, and alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and others in need.

There are an additional 215,000 refugees, many of whom are from Somalia. And it is important to note that on top of the many internal challenges that Yemen faces, the country is also contending with an increasing influx of vulnerable migrants, mainly from the Horn of Africa, who arrive in need of substantial assistance, straining Yemeni communities. So in addition to these 780,000 refugees, conflict victims, and internally displaced – in addition, in 2011, over 100,000 migrants from the Horn of Africa went to Yemen and an additional 43,000 migrants have already arrived in 2012. This is compared to the 30,000 that arrived in 2011, so a substantial increase.

Of the 200,000 Somali refugees that the Yemen Government is continuing to support, we encourage the government to continue working with UNHCR to develop a national refugee policy, which is a high priority for our government. The United States commends the dedicated work of humanitarian organizations on the ground in Yemen, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. But as the fighting continues, humanitarian needs escalate. We anticipate that intensified fighting in Abyan Governorate will lead to civilian casualties and large population movements out of the area. Relief agencies are monitoring the situation, preparing contingency plans to respond to potential humanitarian needs.

Our approach to Yemen is comprehensive. It focuses on strengthening both Yemen’s national and local institutions and civil society organizations. As the Yemeni transition progresses, we will continue to address the needs of the Yemeni people by delivering humanitarian and economic aid; supporting human rights, political and governance reform; and providing security assistance to combat the common threat of violent extremism.

The suicide bombing overnight that killed nearly 100 people – and up to 300 are injured – is just a reminder to us of how much work remains to be done, how vital it is to help the Yemeni Government rebuild its political and economic institutions following a year of unrest.

At the Friends of Yemen meeting on Wednesday the 23rd, the international community will also encourage the Yemeni Government to engage in serious dialogue with all relevant parties to resolve their outstanding grievances. At the same time, it is important to note that the government will not be able to tackle the major ongoing humanitarian crises by itself, especially in the short term. We will continue to strongly support the humanitarian response, and we encourage other donors to fund these operations as well.

And with that, we’re ready to take your questions. Thanks very much.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 and record your name clearly. One moment, please, for the first question.

Our first question comes from Lachlan Carmichael. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, just a clarification. What do you mean by 10 million food insecure? Does it mean they only get one meal a day, or they can’t even count on a meal a day? Is that the kind of thing?

MS. CAPOZZOLA: This is Christa. In very simple terms, they don’t have reliable access to food. To break that down a little bit further, of that 10, 5 million of those are considered severely food insecure. That means they are dealing with facing regular hunger issues. They don’t have enough food; they cannot buy or grow enough; and they require, most of the time, external food assistance. The second 5 million in that – in this category are moderately food insecure and at risk of slipping into the severe category. They’re constrained and are – in terms of buying enough food, given prices and availability.

QUESTION: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1.

Next question comes from Dana Hughes.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. My question is: Where do you see – I’m calling from ABC News; I’m sorry. My question is: How do you see this humanitarian aid fitting into the overall policies that the Obama Administration has of helping Yemen with its transition to democracy, particularly given the challenges with the increase in extremism and al-Qaida?

MS. CLEMENTS: Hi. This is Kelly. Well, I think in terms of – some of the opening comments addressed this in terms of the comprehensive strategy that we’re trying to implement, which really forces – emphasizes governance and economic development as much as the security issues. An important part of the assistance, though, to Yemen, the Yemen people, those that are within Yemen’s borders and so on, is a part of civilian assistance. And for this, it would be humanitarian assistance, of course. That dovetails very nicely to development and transition assistance and so on.

At this stage, Yemen needs help from others, including the United States. So we’ve been very, very strong supporters, obviously, of the humanitarian needs inside the country, and as Christa said, increasing that support from 2011 commensurate with the need, because we’ve had far greater displacements in the last few months and year than previously. So it’s all part of a comprehensive package.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Camille Elhassani. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you for doing this call. I had a quick question about the Friends of Yemen meeting. What deliverables are you guys hoping to come away with? And I know you spoke about working to resolve grievances, but are there amounts of food aid, amounts of money you’re hoping that other nations pledge, deliverables that you expect from Yemen, anything like that?

MS. CLEMENTS: Yeah. We’re probably not best placed to address this completely, but as I understand it, it’s really intended to coordinate international donor assistance in support of the political transition. It is not intended as a donors conference.


MS. CAPOZZOLA: Yeah. I would just add to that only that we expect there will be some discussion of the growing humanitarian needs in the larger context of the political and economic transition and the challenges therein and that we’re going to want to continue to encourage more international support to meet these needs. Thanks.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Peter Finn.

QUESTION: Yeah. When you spoke about the displaced persons, I was wondering – and the 550,000 Yemenis displaced – how many of those – do you have any estimate – are as a result of the fighting in the south that is currently ongoing? Has that aggravated things over the last several weeks, months? And how is that – what kind of – what are you hearing from that area in terms of humanitarian need?

MS. CAPOZZOLA: This is Christa. I can begin the answer by saying yes, the conflict in the south has created significant additional internal displacements and humanitarian needs. Last year – I’m looking at numbers – over 200,000 in those four or five poor governorates that are primarily affected. But we should probably get back to you with some more detailed numbers, if that’s what you’re looking for.

QUESTION: Sure. Okay.


MS. CLEMENTS: Maybe just to add, given that we’re talking about the south, the migration numbers we talked about earlier – that obviously complicates the situation, because of course most of the migrants are landing on that part of the shores. In terms of assistance, in terms of access, that sort of thing, it challenges the humanitarian organizations, but it’s something that all of them are watching closely. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: We have no further questions at this time.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you all for joining. We appreciate it, and have a good afternoon.

MS. CAPOZOLLA: Thank you.


PRN: 2012/815