A UN appeal for help to Yemen to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe raised about $ 1.7 billion on Monday – a result the UN chief called “disappointing”.
At a virtual pledge conference hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had pleaded for $ 3.85 billion this year to meet the plight of poor Arab countries.
However, the amount raised was less than what the UN received last year, and one billion dollars less than what was promised at the 2019 conference, he said.
Guterres urged countries to “reconsider what they can do to stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”
The result of today’s pledge event for Yemen is disappointing.
I thank those who promised generously and ask others to reconsider what they can do to stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.
@UN stands with the starving people of Yemen.
– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 1, 2021
From the outset, donors were unlikely to achieve UN goals given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences for economies around the world. 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-US-backed coalition intervened months later to defeat the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has killed about 130,000 people, created the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe and turned development gains by 20 years, according to the UN Development Program.
Half of Yemen’s health facilities are being closed or destroyed and 4 million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. The pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands more deaths.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will be hungry this year, with about half a million already living in famine-like conditions.
Guterres called for a nationwide ceasefire and UN-led negotiations to end the war. “Ultimately, the only way to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire … There is no other solution,” he said.
Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is on a week-long visit to Yemen, also called the results of the conference “a disappointment” and warned that the lack of funding would cause massive cuts in Yemeni aid.
“The lack of humanitarian aid will be measured in lost lives,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition fighting the Houthis, announced it would donate $ 430 million in aid to Yemen this year to be led through the UN and related bodies. Saudi Arabia had promised half a billion dollars by 2020, the largest amount promised by any country.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the US delegation to the conference, which took place amid efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration to end the conflict.
He said the United States would donate $ 191 million to Yemen this year, a reduction of about $ 35 million from the amount they announced during the 2020 pledge conference.
He said the United States had donated $ 191 million to Yemen, bringing the United States to $ 350 million so far in the 2021 fiscal year.
He called for a ceasefire and for warring parties to stop their involvement in aid operations and “allow aid to reach innocent women, children and men.”
“We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war in Yemen. And so the United States is reviving our diplomatic efforts to end the war, Blinken said.
Other major commitments came from Germany ($ 241 million), the United Arab Emirates ($ 230 million), the United Kingdom ($ 123.23 million) and the European Union ($ 116.2 million).
Rich countries, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, drastically cut aid to Yemen last year. The reductions came amid pandemics, allegations of corruption and concerns that aid might not reach its intended recipients in rebel-held territories.
Last year, aid agencies received about $ 1.9 billion – half of what was needed and half of what was received last year, according to David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee.
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said such pledge conferences “do not help Yemen as much as they help the aggressor countries”, referring to the Saudi coalition.
“Stopping the aggression and lifting the siege is the greatest support that can be given to Yemen,” he said in a series of tweets.
Several speakers at the conference called on the Houthis to stop their offensive against the central province of Marib and their growing cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“Money is not the only thing the Yemenis need. They need an end to the attacks on civilians; they need a ceasefire; they need to put an end to bureaucratic and political blockages of aid flows, says Miliband.
The rebels renewed their offensive against Marib earlier last month to retake the oil-rich province from the internationally recognized government. But they have not made progress. The fighting has displaced more than 10,500 people in just three weeks, the UN migration agency said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia’s civil defense authority said the Houthi projectile landed on a street in the southern province of Jizan on Monday, injuring at least five civilians, including three Saudis and two Yemenis, the official news agency reported. The projectile also damaged at least houses and vehicles.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis.