The UN chief warned of a “death sentence” for Yemen as an international donor conference reported less than half of the funds needed to fund urgent humanitarian programs and prevent devastating famine in the ravaged country by war.
The UN appealed for $ 3.85 billion at Monday’s virtual pledge event, co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, but only $ 1.7 billion was offered.
“Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need help to survive. Cutting aid is a death sentence, ”UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, calling the result“ disappointing ”.
“The best we can say today is that it is a down payment. I thank those who have generously given up and ask others to think again about what they can do to prevent the worst famine the world has seen in decades, ”said Guterres.
The outcome of today’s pledging ceremony for Yemen is disappointing.
I thank those who have generously given up and ask others to think again about what they can do to prevent the worst famine the world has seen in decades.
The @A stands with the hungry people of Yemen.
– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 1, 2021
War in Yemen erupted in late 2014 when Houthi rebels seized large swathes of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. Fighting escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates united a US-backed military coalition in an effort to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
What Saudi leaders believed to be swift military intervention has turned into a protracted conflict that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN. Both sides have been accused of war crimes during the bitter conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.
Humanitarian funding last year fell to half of what was needed and half of what had been received the year before, according to the UN.
More than 100 governments and donors attended Monday’s conference. Some of the headline pledges, including US $ 191 million and US $ 430 million and Saudi Arabia, were smaller than last year’s donations. However, Germany offered 200 million euros ($ 241 million), up from $ 138 million last year.
Cutting humanitarian budgets last year forced the closure of many programs, including health services and food distribution, straining a country where two-thirds of the population depend on some form help to survive.
According to the latest UN data, more than 16 million Yemenis – about half of the population – will face hunger this year. Almost 50,000 people are already dying of hunger in conditions bordering on famine.
The world body has warned that 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five could die of acute malnutrition.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam hit back at the promises, saying it was an attempt to launder money for countries involved in the conflict.
“The conference… does not help Yemen as much as it helps the aggressor countries by giving them the opportunity to clean up their balance sheets and present themselves as donor countries,” he said in a tweet.
The conference comes as the United States steps up efforts to restart a peace process under the leadership of new President Joe Biden and the Houthis attempt to seize the government’s last stronghold in the north.
Biden’s administration ended ‘offensive’ support for the Saudi-led military coalition, while quashing a ‘terrorist’ Houthi blacklist imposed last month by the outgoing administration of former President Donald Trump – a designation that many say severely hampered aid efforts. .
But Houthi fighters have stepped up their operations against Saudi Arabia as coalition airstrikes pound rebel positions in northern Yemen, in a bid to halt their campaign to seize the government stronghold of Marib.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the rebels to end the battle for Marib, warning that Yemen’s suffering will not end until a political solution is found.
“The necessary first step is to stop their offensive against Marib, a city where a million internally displaced people live, and to join the Saudis and the government of Yemen in taking constructive steps towards peace.” , he told the conference.
“We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war … so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war,” he said.
“Now is the time to make this effort to bring about a more stable and prosperous Yemen, whose citizens can rebuild their lives and finally hope for a better future.”
Guterres said the only way to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people was to secure a nationwide ceasefire and a political solution to the conflict.
“There is no other solution,” said the UN secretary general. “The United Nations will continue to stand in solidarity with the hungry people of Yemen.”
Jan Egeland, general secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, also said he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the conference.
“This means continued massive cuts to emergency food, water, shelter and medical support. Lack of humanitarian assistance will be measured in lives lost, ”Egeland said in a statement.
“I told governments at the conference that I had just seen children who were already starving to death in Yemen. It is in their power to prevent a large-scale famine, or to have this stain on their conscience forever. So far, they have not acted.
“Yemen needs three things to avoid disaster: more money than we can use today; a ceasefire to prevent famine; and full access to those in need. “