x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 November 2017

ICRC chief: UAE 'core' contributor to humanitarian missions in Yemen

The ICRC has doubled the number of programmes in Yemen over the last few months

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaks during the interactive discussion held at Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi on November 13, 2017. Pawan Singh / The National
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaks during the interactive discussion held at Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi on November 13, 2017. Pawan Singh / The National

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has praised the UAE’s role in supporting humanitarian operations in war-torn Yemen.

“The UAE is in the core group of donors of ICRC, and we appreciate their contributions — in particular to our Yemen operations,” Peter Maurer told The National at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi. “We hope that they [UAE] will expand for the future.”

The United Nations has listed Yemen as the world’s number one humanitarian crisis, with 17 million people in need of food, with seven million of them at risk of famine. More than 2,000 Yemenis have died in a cholera epidemic now affecting nearly one million people.

The ICRC has doubled the number of aid programmes in Yemen over the last few months - a necessary increase, Mr Maurer said, as “only then will we be able to see more positive developments.”

The enormous growth in the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen was of great concern. "This clearly is the result of war and destruction of health infrastructures which today are at 50 per cent of pre-war capacities,” Mr Maurer said.

“In the past two weeks we have been able to stabilise the growth rate but of course this is still the largest cholera epidemic in decades and therefore is a big worry for us.”

Mr Maurer also said that the Emirates Red Crescent has been a vital partner in their regional humanitarian efforts.

“The Emirates Red Crescent is our first and foremost partner in the country [UAE],” he said. “We appreciate their efforts within the UAE but also internationally, where in some places we work directly and indirectly with the UAE Red Crescent society.”

Mr Maurer praised the UAE for its continuous support for worldwide humanitarian operations and its development programmes in several countries, especially in the areas of health care and education.

“We also appreciate the fact that we are present here in the UAE — a place where humanitarian actions today are thought about, where people come together to address challenges and where international humanitarian law is taught.”

Reflecting on the Syrian humanitarian crisis, Mr Maurer referred to the seventh round of Syrian peace talks that took place in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in October.

“The Astana talks hold the promise of better access [to besieged areas to deliver aid and services] we have seen better access here and there but we have also seen an intensification of warfare.”

Focusing on the ceasefire, the Astana talks were established to try and find a way to end the six-year civil war in Syria. A key issue of the more recent sessions has been the establishment and coordination of at least four de-escalation zones in Syria.

“Unfortunately, at the present moment we are not in a position to say safe areas are safe. They are not safe,” Mr Maurer said. “We see that the war in Syria is still continuing in certain respects and in certain regions even is intensifying and therefore our concerns are still huge.”

While the ICRC appreciates the efforts being made in Astana, Mr Maurer hopes the political and diplomatic negotiations "will at a certain moment find traction on the ground, but it’s too early to say whether they will, while at the present time we unfortunately see further ongoing warfare.”

During his visit to Abu Dhabi Mr Maurer met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as well as Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

"The meetings helped chart the way forward to cementing co-operation in areas of training and education. I am very happy and satisfied with how this kind of collaboration is progressing,” he said. “I have been greatly encouraged by the response and positive feedback from Sheikh Mohamed as well as Sheikh Abdullah of ICRC's activities."