RIYADH (AFP) – The United Nations (UN) on Tuesday raised only around half the required USD2.41 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen, ravaged by war and coronavirus, at a donor conference hosted by Saudi Arabia in the sixth year of its military intervention.
Some USD1.35 billion were raised at the emergency virtual conference, which came as aid groups warned the virus could wreak havoc in Yemen after years of conflict and amid crippling funding shortages.
“We are in a race against time,” UN Secretary General Guterres said in his opening speech.
“Aid agencies estimate they will need up to USD2.41 billion to cover essential aid from June until December, including programmes to counter COVID-19.”
Without the required funding, more than 30 out of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen could close in the next few weeks, Guterres warned, calling for “urgent action”.
But the pledging event fell short of its objective, raising just USD1.35 billion from 30 donor countries.
Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated four million people displaced by war and tens of thousands afflicted by malnutrition and disease.
Saudi Arabia emerged as the biggest donor at the event, pledging an aid package worth USD500 million.
Britain stepped in with a new aid package for Yemen worth GBP160 million (USD200 million).
The United States (US) said it would offer USD225 million, while Germany announced EUR125 million (USD139.8 million) in assistance to Yemen.
UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said USD180 million of the required funding was needed to combat the fast-spreading virus.
Guterres said in the de facto capital Aden, reports indicated the mortality rates from COVID-19 were “among the highest in the world”.
As the coronavirus spreads, some 5.5 million people risk losing access to food and clean water in Yemen this year, said a survey by 24 international aid groups, including Save the Children.
“The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is now compounded by an unprecedented pandemic,” a statement said.
The UN’s Jens Laerke has warned that aid agencies are heading towards a “fiscal cliff” due to a lack of funding that threatens key UN programmes.
“Those who have given an indication of pledges (are urged) to actually pay early because the operation in Yemen is severely, severely underfunded,” said spokesman with the UN’s Humanitarian Agency OCHA Laerke.
Top officials from other UN agencies in Yemen have also appealed for urgent international support.
“We are increasingly alarmed about the situation in Yemen,” officials from UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a joint statement. “We are running out of time.”
International medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that Yemen faces a “catastrophe” from the pandemic.
The UN said COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, while the Yemeni government has officially recorded only a few hundred cases.
“COVID-19 has created new needs there, but (it) is just the latest challenge in an already deteriorating situation,” said Supervisor General of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre Abdullah al-Rabeeah.
“Yemen needs a lot of help, not least because of its weak health system.”