Yemen: health, environment and economy remain threatened by the damaged oil tanker |

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In her first briefing since last July, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), reminded ambassadors that an agreement reached in November with Houthi forces, officially known as Ansar Allah, on the scope of the work needed to keep the ship secure, had raised hopes for an early resolution.

However, due to “political and logistical obstacles”, she said the planned assessment mission has not yet been deployed.

“As a result, we still don’t know the exact condition of the ship, or what the best solution would be to process 1.1 million barrels of oil in an aging tanker located in an environmentally sensitive area of ​​the Red Sea,” said Mrs. Andersen.

Devastating repercussions

The UNEP chief painted a grim picture of the dire consequences of an oil spill, from health to the economy, affecting up to 670,000 livelihoods.

An oil spill could force the closure of the vital port of Hudaydah, limiting food and fuel imports for two to three weeks and blocking 50% of fishing grounds, “with an estimated economic cost of around $ 350 million in five. years, ”she said.

The damage caused to the environment would be considerable: “The Red Sea is one of the most important reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet”, home to marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and many other species of international importance. , she continued, adding that coastal marine environments account for 86 percent of the country’s mangrove cover.

And an oil spill would impact countries neighboring the Red Sea, as well as one of the busiest trade routes in the world, she said.

In addition, a fire or explosion could expose some 4.8 million Yemenis and 350,000 Saudis to harmful pollution levels within 24 to 36 hours.

“About a million internally displaced people living in Yemen could be covered by this plume of smoke,” triggering potentially serious impacts on the health of vulnerable populations, the UNEP chief said.

Work in parallel

Meanwhile, the United Nations system continues to support oil spill preparedness, emergency and response planning.

The UN chief reported “some progress” on this path, especially in the establishment of coordination mechanisms.

She specifically mentioned that UNEP and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) were supporting the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) in the development of a regional emergency plan in large spill event.

And the Yemeni government has established a National Safer FSO Emergency Committee that is reviewing its national emergency plan with support from PERSGA, UNEP and IMO.

The risk remains

Despite the commitments of UN agencies and its partners, Ms. Andersen warned that “the risk remains and the situation will deteriorate as the delays accumulate”.

“Even if response activities were to be launched immediately after an oil spill, it would take years for ecosystems and economies to recover,” she said.

In conclusion, the UN chief urged international partners to “step up their efforts to deal with the situation”.

Impartial assessment needed

Reena Ghelani, director of operations and advocacy at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that there was “a good chance” that flammable gases could build up inside the tanker.

But because the UN has never been allowed to visit the site, it does not know exactly what the conditions are on board, making it impossible to say in the job appraisal what can be done safely.

“That is why the main objective of the UN mission has always been to assess the condition of the ship,” Ghelani recalled, adding that experts must impartially verify the evidence and assess options for solve the problem “once and for all”.

She stressed that the UN has no preference on how the situation is ultimately resolved, as long as “it is done safely”.

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