Appeal for Yemen raises ‘disappointing’ USD1.7B, says UN chief

CAIRO (AP) — A United Nations appeal for aid to Yemen to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian disaster raised some USD1.7 billion on Monday— a result the United Nations (UN) chief called “disappointing.”

At a virtual pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed for USD3.85 billion this year to address the impoverished Arab country’s dire needs.

The amount raised, however, was less than what the UN received last year, and a billion dollars short of what was pledged in the 2019 conference, he said.

Guterres called for countries to “consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”

From the outset, it was unlikely that donors would meet the UN’s goal given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences for economies around the globe. Corruption allegations in Yemen aid operations were also a factor.

Yemen’s war started in 2014 when the Iran-backed rebel Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led, United States (US)-backed coalition intervened months later to dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognised government.

Yemeni girls sit at the Jaw al-Naseem camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of the northern city of Marib. PHOTO: AFP

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people, spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and reversed development gains by 20 years, according to the UN Development Program.

Half of Yemen’s health facilities are shuttered or destroyed and four million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. The pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with some half a million already living in famine-like conditions.

Guterres called for a nationwide ceasefire and UN-led negotiations to end the war. “In the end, the only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire… There is no other solution,” he said.

Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland who is on a week-long visit to Yemen, also called the outcome of the conference “disappointing,” warning that the lack of funding would cause massive cuts to Yemen aid.

“The shortfall in humanitarian aid will be measured in lives lost,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition fighting the Houthis, announced it would donate USD430 million in aid for Yemen this year to be funnelled through the UN and related agencies. Saudi Arabia had pledged half a billion dollars in 2020, the largest amount pledged by any country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the US delegation to the conference, which took place amid efforts by US President Joe Biden’s administration to bring an end to the conflict.

He said the US would donate USD191 million for Yemen this year, a decrease of about USD35 million from the amount it announced in the 2020 pledging conference.

He said the US was donating USD191 million for Yemen, bringing the US total to more than USD350 million so far in fiscal year 2021.

He called for a ceasefire and for warring parties to halt their interference in aid operations and “allow assistance to reach the innocent women, children, and men.”

“We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war in Yemen. And so the US is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war,” Blinken said.

Other major pledges came from Germany (USD241 million), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (USD230 million), the United Kingdom (UK) (USD123.23 million) and the European Union (EU) (USD116.2 million).