UN urges USD2.4B to help Yemen cope with war and virus

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations (UN) Humanitarian Chief urgently appealed for USD2.4 billion to help millions of people in Yemen cope with the conflict and COVID-19, saying programmes are already being cut and the situation is “alarming”.

Mark Lowcock told a UN briefing on Thursday that the UN received USD3.2 billion last year for Yemen because countries in the region stepped up.

This year, the UN has appealed for about USD3.4 billion but as of Wednesday it had only received USD516.6 million, just over 15 per cent. The Saudis pledged USD525 million in early April and Lowcock said he hopes it will quickly be turned into cash.

The UN and Saudi Arabia are co-hosting a video pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday and Lowcock said he has been on the phone with leaders in recent days but doesn’t know what they’re going to do. The collapse in oil prices because of the pandemic may be spurring internal discussions, he said.

Lowcock said he expects high-level representation at the conference, and asked: “Is the world ready simply to watch Yemen fall off the cliff?”

Grave diggers bury bodies at Radwan Cemetery in Aden, Yemen. PHOTO: AP

Lowcock and the heads of 10 other UN agencies and several UN officials and humanitarian organisations issued a joint statement on Thursday saying, “COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

“Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work,” they said. “Of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds.

“This means many more people will die,” they warned. The 17 signatories said they have the skills, staff and capacity to meet the difficult challenges of delivering aid in Yemen but no money and time is running out.

World Food Programme’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Muhannad Hadi told the video briefing that the UN agency needs about USD200 million a month to provide assistance to 12 million Yemenis. But unfortunately, they’ve had to start cutting back to try to stretch their money and the food they have in the country, he said.

Head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF and one of the signatories Henrietta Fore told the briefing that its funding is very low and urged donors to be generous.

More than 12 million children across Yemen need humanitarian assistance and nearly half a million require treatment for severe acute malnutrition and “could die if they do not receive urgent care,” she said.

“We are confronting a crisis on top of a crisis – a pandemic on top of a brutal conflict,” she warned.