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Statement by the Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter on the occasion of the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen - Check against delivery

Speaker: Burkhalter Didier; Didier Burkhalter

Mr Secretary-General
Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear friends

On behalf of the Swiss government, I warmly welcome you to Geneva. I would like to particularly welcome my co-hosts today, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and my colleague from Sweden, Margot Wallström. I am grateful for our excellent cooperation in preparing this conference.

La Genève internationale stands for Switzerland’s commitment to advance peace and international cooperation. The United Nations, over thirty other international organisations and hundreds of NGOs together make this one of the most active centres of multilateral diplomacy. People like you are coming here to develop common answers to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. I thank you for making this effort.

The heart of humanitarian action is beating in Geneva. My country, Switzerland, also stands for good offices – for promoting dialogue to resolve conflicts.  Addressing the crisis in Yemen urgently requires both – humanitarian assistance and a political solution to the conflict.

This gathering today is a pledging conference. We are rallying here to mobilise humanitarian support for the people in Yemen and to send them a strong message of solidarity that they have not been forgotten. But we should also draw attention to the urgent need to address the underlying sources of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The underlying problems cannot be resolved through humanitarian aid. Above all, it is a durable cessation of hostilities that is needed to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is daunting. The people of Yemen need our immediate and comprehensive support. Two-thirds of the population depend on humanitarian assistance every day. Seventeen million people – more than twice the entire population of Switzerland – have become food insecure.

There is the additional problem of water scarcity. Over half of Yemen’s population is in acute need of safe drinking water. The water challenge in Yemen is not new and has many causes. But the war has made regular and secure access to water even more difficult than it was before. Sana’a – a world heritage site of outstanding universal value – is at risk of becoming the first capital in the world to run out of viable water within the coming years as aquifers run dry.

The nature of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is such that we need both: emergency assistance and longer-term assistance geared at enhancing resilience. A sort of humanitarian assistance “Plus”.

In the field of water, for example, resilience requires measures to reverse the dramatically sinking groundwater supplies. We need solutions that provide adequate and fair water distribution and help prevent future tensions.

Strengthening resilience is especially important with regard to the most vulnerable – the children. The latest report by UNICEF on the situation of children in Yemen is deeply troubling. More than 1,200 children have already died in the conflict. In addition to half a million children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, two million children are now not able to go to school in Yemen. Our task again is twofold: immediate action to help secure survival and providing these children with prospects, especially through education.

Dear colleagues

Switzerland is increasing its humanitarian assistance to Yemen to at least 14 million Swiss francs this year. Over the next four years, we pledge to spend over 40 million Swiss francs to sustain our support to Yemen. Let me join the UN Secretary-General and call on your generous support for the people of Yemen. Together we can improve the situation of millions – including many children.

Sufficient funding is essential. But for alleviating the plight of the people, we need to combine our funding effort with an appeal to the parties to the conflict to play their part. Yemen is a largely man-made crisis. It is a crisis that can be mitigated if there is political will on all sides to do so.

Switzerland’s appeal is three-fold:

First, we call for rapid, unimpeded and sustained access to and access for humanitarian assistance in Yemen. All parties to the conflict must ensure that humanitarian food supplies are not obstructed by military operations. In this regard, we are concerned about the situation around Hodeida, the most important port at the Red Sea. If this port becomes unusable, and be it only for a limited period, the humanitarian situation will further deteriorate, particularly in the northern part of Yemen.

We also call on the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian aid across battle lines. Our assistance must reach those who need it most and must not be politicised. Moreover, all parties concerned should help devise a joint plan of how to resume public-sector salaries across Yemen. This would enable many families to buy food again that is still available in markets.

The second part of our appeal concerns the imperative of all parties abiding by international humanitarian law. Civilians must be protected and spared from the effects of war. Medical missions enjoy special protection. Military attacks on humanitarian convoys, on schools and on other civilian infrastructure must be avoided. Any such conduct of warfare is further undermining the fragile social fabric of Yemen. Switzerland also calls for an immediate end to the recruitment of child soldiers. The rights of children must be protected by all sides at all times.

Finally, as the third part of our appeal, Switzerland calls on the parties to the conflict to agree to a cessation of hostilities as a first step to the resumption of peace talks. Humanitarian assistance can be no substitute for the political resolution of the conflict, which must be a priority.

We will continue to support the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in his efforts to reach a negotiated settlement. Switzerland stands ready to host any new round of peace talks if requested. We are also willing to contribute expertise, for instance in the field of power-sharing arrangements.

We encourage the parties to the conflict to embrace a genuine reconciliation process that should include local political leaders, civil society, women and youth groups. Such a process should be Yemeni-driven. Opening up spaces for continuous and inclusive dialogue will help restore trust and national cohesion that are indispensable to achieve and secure peace in Yemen. 

I wish to conclude by thanking all staff of the UN and our many humanitarian partner organisations that work in Yemen under the most perilous security conditions. Let us enable them to bring hope and prospects to the millions of people in Yemen who depend on, and deserve, our generosity today.

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