Funding gaps threaten Yemen virus fight, says UN
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Geneva (AFP) –
A range of aid programmes in war-ravaged Yemen, including ones responding to coronavirus, could be cut in the coming weeks because of funding shortages, the UN warned on Friday.
The United Nations and Saudi Arabia will host a donor conference on June 2 in a bid to boost support for Yemen, which was already facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis before the pandemic struck.
"We are urging the donors to pledge generously, and those who have given an indication of pledges to actually pay early because the operation in Yemen is severely, severely underfunded," Jens Laerke, a spokesman with the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA, told a virtual press conference.
"We are heading towards a fiscal cliff," he warned.
"If we do not get the money coming in, the programmes that are keeping people alive and that are very much essential to fight back against COVID will have to close."
Laerke said the UN estimated it needed some $2 billion to keep essential programmes running in Yemen for the remainder of the year.
He said just $677 million had been donated so far this year, compared with over $4 billion during 2019.
"Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming," Laerke said.
- Transmission 'widespread' -
He said more than 30 key UN programmes were at risk of closing in the coming weeks due to the lack of funding.
They include the COVID Rapid Response Teams, which had only enough funding to keep going for six more weeks, he said.
Yemen has officially recorded 184 cases and 30 deaths so far, but medical charity Doctors Without Borders said this week at least 68 virus patients had died at its Aden facility in the first half of May alone -- calling it the "tip of the iceberg".
Laerke agreed, telling journalists Friday that the UN was "working on the assumption that there is already widespread communal transmission going on".
He said epidemiologists think the virus could spread faster and with deadlier consequences in the war-torn country.
- Saudi involvement 'normal' -
Yemen's healthcare system has been blighted by years of conflict that has driven millions from their homes.
The conflict between government forces and the Iran-backed Huthis escalated in March 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the rebels after they overran much of the country.
The war has left tens of thousands of people dead, most of them civilians, and the UN says around 24 million Yemenis -- more than two thirds of the population -- rely on some form of aid.
Questions have been raised over Saudi Arabia's involvement in the donor conference, given that it has been accused of war crimes in Yemen.
Laerke said the UN had voiced concerns "forcefully and vocally" over alleged abuses committed by all sides but stressed that Saudi Arabia was by far the largest humanitarian donor to Yemen in recent years.
"They gave very large amounts of money. They gave it unconditionally, no strings attached," he said, adding that the billions in Saudi donations had helped fight cholera outbreaks and looming famines.
Having Saudi Arabia co-host the event "is a normal choice based on that background," he said.
© 2020 AFP