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UN food agency director hails Saudi Arabia’s ‘most important’ aid efforts in Yemen

RIYADH: The UN World Food Program representative in Yemen hailed the crucial Saudi efforts to help the organization meet the war-torn country’s urgent livelihood needs.

In an exclusive interview, Richard Ragan told Arab News that the Kingdom has played a vital role in maintaining the food supply for the Yemeni people.

The country director said: “Saudi Arabia’s role is one of the most important if not the most important, it is a neighbour. It is therefore clear that it is in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a stable border.

“The humanitarian aid that has been provided to us by the Saudis in the past has been essential. They are essential in terms of financial partner, humanitarian partner, political partner.

WFP Yemen Country Director Richard Ragan speaking to Arab News. (A photo by Ali Mohammad Aldhahri)

“We really can’t put together the kind of program we need to operate effectively in Yemen without the partnership with Saudi Arabia. This is why I am in the Kingdom. It is the first country I have visited since taking office three months ago. For me, this is the most important place,” he added.

Ragan also singled out the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center for special praise.

He said, “KSrelief is important in the humanitarian world; they are unique. Most of our partners just give money, but KSrelief is different; they make plans. They are present in Yemen and very familiar with the ongoing dynamics, particularly in the conflict-torn southern part of the country.

The UN official noted that the WFP sees the center as important in two ways, “as partners to get the job done, who know very well how to run effective programs, and also as very good financial partners”. .

Richard Ragan noted that among major donor countries, Saudi Arabia has always been one of the most generous. (Provided)

He added: “After seven years of war, nothing works in Yemen, the state has stopped working in many ways. So, without the kind of work that KSrelief does in the health sector, millions of people would go without health care. So that’s one of the real fundamental things.

Regarding the current situation in Yemen, he said: “For the United Nations World Food Programme, we feed just over half of the population of Yemen. For us, it’s the biggest program in the world, it’s the biggest program that, historically, the MAP has ever carried out. So the scale of what we’ve tried to do, to keep people alive with food in Yemen, is quite immense. »

Ragan noted that he had been living in Yemen for three months. “But the most obvious thing in my opinion is that there is hope through the truce. I think Yemen is at a crossroads after seven years of war. And that crossroads is either to return to war, conflict and strife, or to take the other path and move forward towards peace.

“We really can’t put together the kind of program we need to operate effectively in Yemen without the partnership with Saudi Arabia. This is why I am in the Kingdom. It is the first country I have visited since taking office three months ago. For me, this is the most important place.

Richard Raganrepresentative of the United Nations World Food Program in Yemen

“So far it looks like the truce is holding; there are small incidents where there is conflict. Three days ago there was an unfortunate attack in Taiz, where people were partying, a building was attacked next to a park and people were killed. This is the kind of thing that is not good for a truce,” he added.

He highlighted the progress of the confidence-building measures negotiated between the parties at the UN.

“Fuel ships are unloading in the port, so the gas shortages that were evident from January 1 to the end of March have eased, which for us at WFP was also critical because we weren’t really able to do our job without fuel.

A two-month ceasefire was announced in April, as agreed by the warring parties in Yemen.

Ragan said: “We needed fuel so that part of the puzzle was solved. I would say our ability to operate in the country and deliver food, even during the conflict, has been quite good. We feed between 10 and 15 million people a month.

Besides providing food to people, he highlighted the work being done to run the airport for humanitarian needs.

“We have something called the UN Humanitarian Air Service, including for NGO (non-governmental organization) partners and UN agencies. It is a very large part of the air traffic that enters the country. We also have ships that we fly to and from Jeddah that carry humanitarian supplies for people.

“We do a wide range of things that aren’t just about food. We manage telecommunication services for UN agencies and NGO partners. So it’s big and it’s an expensive program for WFP.

“That’s about the equivalent of $200 million a month to do all of our work. Funding, which is part of our operations this year, has not been as generous. So far we have collected 25% of what we need. So we have to start dividing the rations into groups,” he added.

Ragan noted that among major donor countries, Saudi Arabia has always been one of the most generous, alongside the United States and Germany. “The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states have been there with us so far, and we hope that will happen soon for the future.”

The recently announced UN humanitarian response plan for this year sought around $4 billion in contributions, of which the WFP accounts for half.

He said: “In previous years we made up more than half because food is clearly the most important, and we feed people, we bring wheat into the port. We grind it as fast as we get it. And then it’s sold out, so we don’t even have any stocks that we can store. The requirements are so great.

“I’ve been with WFP for 22 years and managed some of our biggest operations around the world, but nowhere as big and complicated as what we’re doing in Yemen.”

Ragan stressed that the conflict in Ukraine has an impact on the whole world.

“Yemen is, unfortunately, one of the places where this is going to have the biggest impact because you are already dealing with an anemic economy, you are dealing with a population that has almost no purchasing power. 4 million people have been internally displaced due to the conflict.

“My most urgent message to the world is to remember Yemen. It’s still one of the potentially biggest disasters on the planet. The world’s attention is on Ukraine. But don’t forget Yemen because there is a real opportunity for peace.

“It’s the first time since the beginning of the conflict, where there is more hope for peace, the people I spoke to, that’s what they want.

“Certainly, the citizens of Yemen want it. They are tired of the conflicts, they are tired of the bombardments, they want to be able to educate their children and they want to be able to visit their loved ones.

“They desperately want to be able to move, just to do the basic things that we like and they can’t do. So I think there is a lot of hope from the average Yemeni that this conflict will end,” Ragan added.

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