Humanitarian Situation in Yemen: Oxfam

In today's meeting we will meet with Mr. Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, and Ms Dina El-Mamoun, head of policy and advocacy in Yemen for Oxfam International. They, and their colleagues attending in the Public Gallery, are very welcome. The members of the committee look forward to hearing their evidence on the current humanitarian situation in Yemen.

Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe, or flight mode depending on the device. It is not sufficient for members to put their phones on silent mode as this will maintain the level of interference with the broadcasting system.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Mr. Jim Clarken

I thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss the situation in Yemen with it. I had the opportunity to mention this meeting on "Morning Ireland" this morning so I hope we will have expanded interest in it. We appeared before this committee two years ago when Yemen was first on the brink of famine. It is heart-breaking that we are here again as Yemen continues to experience the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. I am delighted to be joined by my colleague, Dina El-Mamoun, who is our international head of policy and advocacy on Yemen and who lives there. Since 2015, Oxfam have been working with local partner organisations in eight governates in Yemen and we have reached more than 3 million people with water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers. This assistance is essential for mitigating the devastating effects of the protracted conflict, which is bringing new suffering and civilian damage on a daily basis.

We are now into the fourth year of the conflict and people are being pushed beyond their limits. Ms El-Mamoun will speak to the rapidly changing situation in the country itself, but first I will try to remind the committee members of the scale of the crisis we are facing. Between March 2015 and August 2018, the conflict in Yemen has led to a total of 17,062 civilian casualties.

It has forced more than 3 million people from their homes. Some 24.1 million people, or 80% of the population, need humanitarian assistance, including 14.3 million individuals who are in acute need.

Yemen is experiencing a third wave of the world's worst cholera outbreak, with two previous waves from October 2016 to March 2018. There have been more than 1.5 million suspected cholera cases, including 3,024 related deaths in Yemen since October 2016. Some 22 of the country’s 23 governorates are now affected by cholera. Without prevention measures being put in place urgently and a rapid and unhindered scale-up of the response, the outbreak will become an epidemic as the rainy season approaches.

As members will be aware, food security in Yemen is critically dependent on imports and incomes, both of which have been knowingly undermined by parties to the conflict over many months. Very little food is grown in Yemen. Approximately 90% of the country’s food has to be imported, with 70% of that coming through Hodeidah port. Actions that have obstructed food availability and accessibility include the Saudi-led coalition, disrupting food and other supplies entering Hodeidah and Salif ports by means of blockades, inspection processes, delaying of vessels or diversion. While imports of bulk foods, such as wheat, rice and sugar, are under way, containers have been blocked, which prevents the offloading of supplies of milk powder, cooking oil, medicines and other goods. Hodeidah is the most important point of entry for food, fuel and medicines needed by 20 million Yemenis in the northern governorates in order to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic. Any disruption of or attack on the port that results in cutting off imports means cutting off the lifeline for not just the people of Hodeidah but the entire country. It is worth emphasising that international humanitarian law, underscored by UN Security Council Resolution 2417, requires all parties to conflicts to ensure that they do not target civilians and objects necessary for food production and distribution or objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including crops, livestock and water sources.

Yemen’s economy has been shattered. Since 2015, the economy has halved in size and very few Yemenis have any source of income. More than 80% now live below the poverty line. Salaries for many workers in the public sector have not been paid for two years, leaving many destitute. The exchange rate has faced severe shocks and has fluctuated sharply since the escalation of conflict. The central bank has struggled to ensure liquidity in the market, making it difficult for importers to bring supplies into the country. Fighting and financial constraints have led to the closure of 35% of businesses and the shrinkage of more than 51% of surviving firms. As a result, food prices have been pushed so high that essential supplies have become too expensive for most. In October 2018, retail prices of food commodities were between 73% and 178% higher than in the pre-crisis period, while the price of fuel, which is essential for distribution of supplies, had risen at an even higher rate.

Sustained undermining of food imports, availability and plummeting incomes have clear and unequivocal humanitarian consequences. Some 14 million people, or half the population of Yemen, face a clear and present danger of imminent famine, while 20 million, or two thirds of the population, are reliant on food aid in order to survive. Yemenis are resilient people, but the current situation is the worst we have seen and it keeps deteriorating. In surveys late last year of people in Taiz, southern Yemen, who had received assistance from Oxfam, 99% said the adults in the family had reduced how much they ate to give more food to their children and 98% had cut down the number of meals they ate every day. More than half said they had borrowed food from friends or relatives, while almost two thirds of people to whom we spoke said they had taken on debt. In almost all cases, this was to buy food, medicine or water.

Coping mechanisms for many Yemenis have become more and more desperate. Oxfam has spoken to families in Amran Governorate in the north of Yemen who, hungry and isolated after fleeing their homes, have been forced to marry off their daughters - in one case, the child was as young as three years old - in order to buy food and shelter to save the rest of the family. Although early marriage has long been a dire practice in Yemen, marrying off girls at such an early age in pure desperation to buy food is shocking. We know that in situations of food shortage, women eat last and least. Yemeni women face one of the world’s greatest gender-based disparities and this imbalance is clearly evident in the context of food security and nutrition. Escalating food shortages have left an estimated 1.1 million pregnant and lactating women malnourished and threaten the lives of 75,000 women who are likely to develop complications during childbirth, including the stunted growth of their newborns. Even with humanitarian assistance, women give priority to children or other family members, or use the money for other household needs. An assessment carried out after one Oxfam distribution showed that 14% of respondents from female-headed households still had a poor food consumption score compared with 6% of male-headed households. Under conditions of conflict characterised by displacement, loss of personal security, family instability and a lack of access to rights, Yemeni women and girls are exposed to many risks, including gender-based violence. A protection survey carried out in November 2018 found that women experienced the highest levels of all violence - psychological, physical and sexual – and that, overall, girls were affected more by all forms of violence than boys. We are also aware that there is likely to be vast under-reporting of sexual violence as a result of the fact that survivors face stigmatisation.

The international humanitarian response, of which we are a part, is saving lives, but it is taking place in a very challenging environment. Conflict, security constraints and the harassment of humanitarian workers are just some of the challenges faced in accessing the hardest-to-reach areas without compromising the safety and security of those we work with, our local partner organisations and our staff. The only real solution to the crisis in Yemen is political. Talks in Sweden at the beginning of December were the first since 2016 that were attended by both warring parties. This was a big first step. Despite an agreed ceasefire in the city and port of Hodeidah, however, three civilians are still killed every day. That is one person every eight hours. The international community needs to maintain pressure on all parties to the conflict in order to ensure that ceasefire agreements are honoured and that there is a quick return to negotiations. It is essential that the peace process is inclusive, with the active and meaningful participation of women, civil society and youth. While women bear the burden of war, they are not passive victims. Women are leading efforts to increase the resilience of their communities and contribute to peace-building at local level through resolving conflicts over resources such as water and land. Although gender norms are strongly conservative in Yemen, women are accepted as mediators in local conflicts among tribes and rural communities, which is a long-held tradition. Women are largely excluded from formal peace processes, however. Where they have been involved, women’s groups have described their inclusion as disappointing, representing a missed opportunity for sustainable peace. In the course of our work, we have seen the necessity of including women in peace discussions and negotiations at the early stages. When that is done, the likelihood is a far better and far more sustainable outcome in peace negotiations.

Critically, the world must stop fuelling the conflict by selling weapons for use in the war. Homes, school and hospitals, as well as our own water projects, have been repeatedly bombed. Arms sales from the US, the UK, the EU and others fuel this man-made crisis and legitimise, prolong and deepen a conflict that causes immense human suffering. US, EU and Canadian arms sales alone to the three largest coalition players in the war - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt - totalled more than $33 billion between 2015 and 2017. Since March 2015, the sale of UK arms licensed to Saudi Arabia has exceeded £4.6 billion. Oxfam supports the full and robust implementation of the arms trade treaty. The international community must refrain from sending any arms, ammunition or munitions for use in Yemen by parties to the conflict.

Ireland and Yemen are not so far apart. Ireland has long-standing diplomatic engagements and opportunities for influence in respect of Yemen, as well as strong trade ties in surrounding countries. Ireland’s new international development policy, A Better World, sets out a firm commitment to reduce humanitarian need, intensify political efforts to address root causes of conflicts, and bolster engagement in fragile contexts. We recognise the Government’s action on Yemen to date, including the participation of the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, at the high-level pledging event for Yemen last month in Geneva, and Ireland’s pledge of €5 million. The latter brings this country's support for the Yemeni people up to more than €22 million since 2012. We also recognise Ireland’s advocacy for humanitarian access in Yemen, including through resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. To realise the values of A Better World, however, and to live up to the commitments of empathy, partnership and independence as set out in Ireland’s UN Security Council campaign, we must do more. A seat at the UN Security Council would enable Ireland to have a strengthened role in international peace and security, which we would certainly welcome. If Ireland wants to play this role, which it can do, it needs to ensure that it does all it can to deliver on a successful outcome in Yemen. There are many actions it can take in that regard.

It is critical that the Government and, specifically, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade use Ireland’s influence at EU and UN level to apply pressure on all parties to respect international humanitarian law, negotiate and maintain a nationwide ceasefire, and approach peace talks with the best interest of the Yemeni people in mind. We ask the committee to write to the Minister to request an update on diplomatic efforts made by Ireland in respect of Yemen, to request that Ireland press for the full commitment of warring parties and their backers to a ceasefire in Hodeidah, and to support the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement as pillars for moving the peace process forward. As we requested during our previous appearance before the committee, we also recommend that the Tánaiste direct his Department to use its embassy in Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting with its Saudi counterparts in order to make clear that Ireland unilaterally condemns the country’s devastating bombing campaign in Yemen at the highest level, and to reiterate the need for a comprehensive ceasefire. Oxfam has worked in Yemen for 35 years but we have never seen a humanitarian crisis on this scale. Yemenis face the triple threat of war, disease and hunger. We and the UN consider it the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet but it just does not seem to be getting the attention required. We urge the committee to do everything it can to raise awareness and make space for it in the Irish context in order that Ireland can play its role internationally, which we believe it can do.

I thank the committee for listening to my statement. Ms El-Mamoun and I will be happy to discuss the matter further, while she can provide much more practical information about her experience on the ground.

I thank Mr. Clarken for his outline of a desperate situation. We arranged for Oxfam Ireland to make a presentation to the committee to try to get the message out to the public as well as we can and to create greater awareness of the threat of war, disease and hunger facing many people. When two thirds of the people in any country need humanitarian assistance, it paints a grim picture. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

I welcome Mr. Clarken, even though his presentation was grim. I apologise that I will have to leave the meeting early to speak in the Chamber. I was struck that the sale of UK arms licences to Saudi Arabia has exceeded €4.6 billion, yet UK aid has reached 0.7%. It is a total contradiction and incoherence. There are arm sales from the EU even though it is a major donor of aid. The easy part is giving the aid; the difficult part is facing the challenges. France and Germany have stopped selling arms, although they are probably selling arms elsewhere, but the recent announcement by the US President, Donald Trump, has not helped. There is no doubt that it has received less attention. For a period, every time one turned on the news it was about Yemen but it is becoming forgotten. I expect it to be consigned to history with other forgotten tragedies.

I attended a presentation yesterday and the previous day on access to medicines. How is Oxfam Ireland coping in that regard? There are also non-communicable diseases. Is Oxfam able to provide the medicines that are needed for them? We see people dying in conflict, through being shot, bombed or whatever, but individuals also die from illnesses which can, and should, be prevented.

Our guests might also elaborate on attacks on humanitarian workers and how difficult the situation is for them.

Would Ms El-Mamoun like to comment?

Ms Dina El-Mamoun

I thank the committee for inviting us to appear before it. On the access to humanitarian supplies, we have repeatedly faced difficulties with their importation. Last year, for example, we tried to bring in supplies for treating cholera. That was supposed to be rapid, with supplies from different countries, but we ended up in a situation where it took us months before we could get the supplies into the country and then distribute them. That was because the access restrictions are twofold, relating to bringing the supplies into the country and the fact that movement within the country is curtailed. We must, therefore, obtain endless permits, which has resulted in us being unable to distribute the supplies throughout the country, at least two months after they reached Yemen. The concern is that we face the same problem again because we definitely need supplies in order to treat cholera. While the UN is devising a list of the supplies needed, we could well face the same situation we faced last year due to the access restrictions.

On a tax on humanitarian workers, that takes several shapes. On the one hand, access is again an issue. For us to access areas we need to cover, due to the situation in certain parts of the country, our permits are often rejected. Our team's permits have been rejected on at least three occasions in the past three months. Ours is not an isolated case. Most international non-governmental organisations will have faced similar problems. There are also checkpoints along the roads. If we want to go to an area such as Hajjah, which is an area not only in conflict but also high in cholera and food insecurity, we find there are at least 30 checkpoints between it and Shaharah. Along that route, anything could happen. Encountering a checkpoint could mean that we will be stuck or that we will sail through; we never know and that is part of the obstacles that we face daily. We simply need to act quickly but we struggle to do so with the restrictions we face on the ground.

I presume that one must pay at the various checkpoints.

Ms Dina El-Mamoun

No, we do not. Rather, we have a permit and, on that basis, we refuse to pay.

I thank Ms El-Mamoun. I call Deputy Crowe.

I welcome our guests. I appreciate their appearing before the committee and providing it with information. Food and clean water are necessary to live. Mr. Clarken stated many of the facilities in which Oxfam has been involved have been bombed. Clean water is essential to life and I imagine Yemen is a very warm country at times. How are people managing in that regard? Are the countries which are being sold arms involved in the bombing of the water infrastructure? People at home and members of the committee hear of the scale of the conflict and the international players involved. Al-Qaeda is also involved. Are these various actors involved in attacking al-Qaeda in the region? Is that their justification for being involved in the conflict, or is it part of the Iranian-Saudi Arabian conflict in the region, with the support of the US, France and the UK? Will our guests also comment on the use of cluster bombs? One of the potential solutions Mr. Clarken outlined is that the Government should contact the Saudi ambassador. Should the Government have a word with the British, French and US Governments, as well as the other players, about their involvement, given that it is clear they are complicit because they are supplying weapons?

Mr. Clarken stated that while he hopes for a ceasefire, a political solution is needed. He noted that although goods are being imported, the problem is the stranglehold around those goods. In theory, the ceasefire is holding, but if the food and medicines cannot be given to those who need them, it shows the fallacy of what was agreed at the talks. What will be the political way forward?

Does it need to include free access to food, medicines and aid to the areas most affected? Our guests might also expand on the cholera epidemic, which is linked to the lack of clean water and poor sanitation as well.

Ms Dina El-Mamoun

In regard to clean water, there have been at least two incidents of air strikes in which the water systems and solar panels we had installed were hit indirectly. In other words, the air strikes hit an area and indirectly hit the water systems we installed. That has affected communities. In one of those areas, we have not been able to repair the damage because of restrictions in terms of access.

More generally, clean water is an issue not only in Hajjah and Hodeidah in Sanaa. What is different about this cholera outbreak is the high level of the outbreak in Sanaa. This is linked to the sewerage system being old, derelict and in need of replacement but it is very difficult in the current situation to undertake large infrastructural projects around big cities across the country. This is also contributing to the cholera epidemic, the levels of which are quite high in comparison with the previous rounds. We are concerned that in this particular round of cholera the numbers will surpass those of previous outbreaks.

On the scale of the conflict, there is a ceasefire in Hodeidah. It is not a countrywide ceasefire, which means air strikes and ground level fighting continues in other parts of the country. Although the ceasefire in Hodeidah is holding, ground-level fighting is still happening. All of these issues are affecting access and our ability to respond and so we are calling for the ceasefire to apply countrywide rather than in only Hodeidah. We need that to happen for us to be able to move around and reach communities in different parts of the country.

On the Stockholm Agreement, while the ceasefire in Hodeidah appears to be holding we are not seeing the next steps. For example, we are not seeing the full implementation of the agreement. There has been no progress on implementation since December last. At the same time, there is a deterioration in the economy and an outbreak of cholera. All of this is linked to the slow collapse of the country. The Yemeni's believe they are dying a slow death. They do not accept that other countries are rallying to their support. Ireland has a particular role to play. As it is not involved in the arms transfer, it is in a unique position. It is supporting Yemenis but some political leverage needs to be add to that support.

I will hand over to Mr. Clarken at this point.

Mr. Jim Clarken

The statement that the Yemenis believe they are dying a slow death presents a strong image. There comes a time when that becomes catastrophic, although the situation is already catastrophic in terms of the number of people affected. It is worth remembering that before the conflict Yemen was the poorest country in the region by a distance. It is already a very poor country. Approximately 51% of the health services are no longer functioning, even at the level at which they operated before the crisis. One can imagine the impact of that, leaving aside an epidemic of cholera, a food crisis and so on.

The Stockholm Agreement was a really positive initial step forward. Like all peace agreements, it requires ongoing monitoring, commitment, focus and political engagement, even during the tough parts. It is not a linear process. We have to keep at it. There is a sense that that is probably not happening at the moment. The issues are how do we make sure that Hodeidah is accessible and then, because there is no point stockpiling everything there, how do we ensure there is a proper ceasefire across the country. We need an inclusive peace process, that will take time a long time, but that starts and people feel connected to so that, at least, in the initial stages the humanitarian access is there to deliver the support that is needed. We can then start to gradually rebuild.

Mr. Clarken has witnessed people dying and has experienced the conflict at first hand. Is he frustrated by the lack of media coverage of the conflict? It is rarely reported on the front pages of the newspapers, on CNN or Sky News. Even when it is mentioned, it is only a short report.

Mr. Jim Clarken

I am not sure if the Deputy asks that question in a political context as opposed to a humanitarian one but either way it is important. According to the UN and everybody else working in the area, including Oxfam, this is the world's worst humanitarian crisis by a distance. It should be front-page news all the time. It should be constantly in the public mind. There are issues around access from a media perspective. It is not an easy place to access. However, that is not to suggest that we should not continue to work on it. We need to examine how we can influence all of the key actors to ensure there is media access because Governments and people respond when they clear on what is happening. We need to work harder to make that happen.

I welcome our guests and thank them for being here. It is important that what is happening in Yemen is highlighted in the public domain. When it comes to matters of foreign affairs, we are ignorant about Yemen. The information contained in the documentation supplied to members is not generally known. I hope this meeting will help to highlight the situation in Yemen. We need to do highlight this outrage on a continuous basis. The conflict does not arise out of poverty so it should be possible to resolve it. The lack of publicity in regard to the ongoing atrocities does nothing to help resolve the problem. It is important that the committee is updated regularly on this situation. In that regard, I suggest that our guests to invited to appear before us again in the not too distant such that we continue to highlight this situation.

This is the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. My knowledge of the atrocities that are happening in Yemen is fairly limited, for which I apologise. As already stated, we need to ensure that it is highlighted. Our guests will note that there is not much media presence at this meeting, which is the norm when it comes to discussing these types of issues. We find it difficult to get the necessary publicity about what is happening.

The committee should do everything in its power to highlight these atrocities in Yemen and other parts of the world. We can continue to meet the delegates and highlight what is happening. When I read the documentation, I was quite frightened because nothing is being said about what is happening. The request that the committee should write to the Tánaiste seeking an update on diplomatic efforts made by Ireland regarding Yemen is not too onerous. Not only should we write to the Tánaiste, we should invite him to come before us in order to discuss these matters, particularly Yemen, with him. Our guests also requested that Ireland use its influence at EU and UN levels. This is not a major request but, again, it highlights the issue. With regard to both requests, the committee should formally make a presentation in writing before inviting the Tánaiste to come before it and asking that what we desire be done.

I congratulate our guests on continuing to bring these matters to our attention. It is fairly easy to forget about the parts of the world in question. It is quite horrific that what is happening is not the result of poverty. Yemen is located in a reasonably well-off part of the world but it seems to have been forgotten. Our job is to make certain that we highlight what is happening there. I suggest that we do as requested in the report, that is, contact the Tánaiste and ask him to attend, if at all possible, to highlight what is happening in Yemen.

Mr. Jim Clarken

We appreciate the sentiment and support. This is a collective effort. We acknowledge that Ireland can do only so much but it can do things. Ireland plays an important role in the world. Despite its size, it has access to extraordinarily influential people. Interestingly, Ms Nancy Pelosi, who was in the Houses yesterday, is one of the people who slapped down the US President in regard to the veto. She was immediately connected to that. Ireland is in such spaces and can use its voice as an honest country that genuinely wants to do the right thing, but we should not be afraid to raise the issues and be clear about our position on these matters.

I thank both delegates for their really compelling presentation. I apologise because I was a late to it. As others have stated, hearing about the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe made for grim listening. The delegates have given us a really clear picture of it. The focus on the gender aspect and the devastating impact on women and children, in particular, really brings it home.

Like others, I was struck by the comment that the only real solution is a political one. I agree with what Deputy Barrett stated, namely, that the requests made by our guests are very reasonable. As a committee, we absolutely should write to the Tánaiste to request an update and seek to use Ireland's influence. There was a specific request that the Tánaiste should direct his Department to use the embassy in Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting with Saudi counterparts. We should include that in our letter also. We do have an update from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have been told the Tánaiste met the Saudi ambassador in October 2018 and February 2019, which was quite recently, to stress Ireland's concerns over humanitarian access. We have not been told whether our embassy in Saudi Arabia has made representations there. Perhaps we should emphasise that.

Clearly, there has been considerable focus on Saudi Arabia as a key player and on arms sales to that country. As a small country, can Ireland do more to press our its EU partners to discontinue arms sales to Saudi Arabia in particular but also to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Iran, each of which is also a player in the conflict. Can we do more on that front? There has been a lot of focus on British arms sales but other EU countries are also involved.

What more can we do about the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Iran? We have been told the Department has conveyed to the Iranian embassy here Ireland's strong concerns over the safety of civilians and compliance with international humanitarian law but we have not been told whether any representations have been made by Ireland to the United Arab Emirates or Egypt. Have the delegates any comment on that?

Ms Dina El-Mamoun

On the other countries with leverage in the conflict in Yemen - Iran and the United Arab Emirates - the messages that are going to Saudi Arabia are similar to those that need to go to the United Arab Emirates. With regard to Iran, it is important to note that advocacy in respect of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is likely to be successful only if other parties with leverage in the conflict, on all sides, are included.

We do not know what Iran is doing in regard to pushing the Houthi authorities in the north on access and other issues faced. It is important that this be addressed in equal measure. Ultimately, the transfer of arms is to all sides of the conflict, not just one. This message needs to be sent across the board. We know the United Arab Emirates is playing an important role in the south of Yemen in particular but it is also important to note that the impact of the conflict is not only felt in the conflict areas in the north. There is also a devastating impact across the rest of the country, even in parts of the south where there is no live conflict. It is important to note it is not a question of the United States, for example, saying what is being done is important to fight al-Qaeda because the whole country is now in a situation where people are starving and cholera is rampant. It is important to show the humanitarian impact of the conflict as a whole and of arms transfers across the country. Egypt is part of the coalition. All members of the coalition will need to be addressed in that respect.

I commend the great work being done by Oxfam and the other agencies involved.

I thank our guests for their detailed presentation. It is frightening that Yemen is again facing the triple threat of war, disease and hunger. The reason our guests are before us is in order to try to create greater awareness among the public of the ongoing conflict, which is now in its fourth year. As my colleagues stated, unfortunately we do not hear as much about the conflict in the international broadcast media as we should. Our guests outlined very clearly that 24 million people, out of a population of 30 million, are in need of humanitarian assistance. There is major loss of life. The actions of the Saudi-led coalition in preventing food and medicine from getting to those who are starving, dying and suffering so much are absolutely reprehensible. It is so disappointing that Yemen continues to experience the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with a conflict in its fourth year. Mr. Clarken and Ms El-Mamoun both made the very valid point that Yemeni women and girls are exposed to many risks, including that of gender-based violence.

It is a major indictment of the international community that girls and women are subjected to further gender-based violence in addition to the suffering they already experience. Earlier, Mr. Clarken asked that the committee would write to the Tánaiste regarding the need for Ireland to continue to use its influence at every forum available, including through the European Union and the United Nations, in order to apply pressure on all parties to respect international humanitarian law. With the approval of the committee, I suggest that we would also write to the Tánaiste requesting an update on what diplomatic efforts we are pursuing with the Saudi authorities, particularly in the context of the blocking of essential foodstuffs and medicines getting through the port of Hodeidah. The full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement is critical.

We will also ask the Tánaiste to request that staff at the embassy in Saudi Arabia convene a meeting with their Saudi counterparts in order to raise all of the basic human rights issues of concern, including the lack of humanitarian assistance getting to the people in need. This committee has listened to many presentations but I do not know of any country in conflict where such a high proportion of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance. We heard that 24 million out of a total population of 30 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. We would be very pleased to write to the Tánaiste to ask him to pursue the issue through every forum that is available to him and also to continue to exert all the pressure we can through the diplomatic network in order to ensure that a peaceful resolution is found. It is terrible to think of the triple threat the country is facing, which the witnesses put so well, of war, disease and hunger. I thank both of our guests for their detailed presentation and I compliment those from Oxfam International and sister organisations that are working in Yemen in very difficult circumstances.

It is important to bear in mind that there are other actors involved, not just the Saudis. We have an embassy in Saudi Arabia but it is important that we would also formally contact all the countries that are involved in the region to give them the same message.

We can put that in our letter to the Tánaiste. As Deputy Barrett indicated, that would meet with the request of our guests. I again thank Mr. Clarken and Ms El-Mamoun and welcome their colleagues who are present. On behalf of the committee, I wish them well in their work. As Deputy Barrett stated, we would be pleased to meet our guests again. I hope we will not need to do so and that progress will be made. However, if the need arises, and we need to keep the issue on the agenda in order to create awareness, we will do so.

Mr. Jim Clarken

I thank the committee for its assistance, which is most appreciated. Members have become advocates in respect of this issue. We need advocates here in Ireland as well as globally. Peace will not be easy to achieve but it is possible. It is crucial that we use whatever diplomatic influence we have with all actors as opposed to one or the other. There are a number of actors and we know who they are. Ireland has varying degrees of relationships with all of them and we can do a lot. It is heartening to hear the passion and commitment of committee members. We really appreciate it.

I thank Mr. Clarken. While I understand that the committee may be asked to play a role in proceedings relating to Europe Day on 9 May, arrangements have not yet been finalised but they will be notified to members in due course. The next scheduled meeting of the joint committee is with the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. We will adjourn this meeting now and the select committee will meet at 11.15 a.m. I thank members.

The joint committee adjourned at 10.35 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 30 May 2019.