UN officials appeal for Yemen funding amid pandemic

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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

Top officials from several UN agencies appealed Thursday for urgent international financial support in Yemen with coronavirus spreading in the war-torn country.

"We are increasingly alarmed about the situation in Yemen," officials from the UN Humanitarian Affairs Department, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement.

"We are running out of time," they said.

The United Nations says COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, which was already immersed in the world's worst humanitarian crisis because of a war that shows no sign of abating.

The UN officials said they currently have enough "skills, staff and capacity."

"What we don't have is the money. We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly," they said, noting that a donors conference has been organized for June 2 by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations.

Mark Lowcock, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said $2.4 billion needed to be raised by the end of the year for Yemen, including $180 million to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Yemen is in desperate need of assistance," Muhannad Hadi of the World Food Programme said, while UNICEF's director, Henriette Fore, warned of a "major disaster."

More than 12 million children in Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid, she said.

Before the pandemic, two million children lacked schools. Another five million have since been forced to quit school, she said.

Officially, 50 people have died from the new coronavirus in Yemen and infections have been reported in 10 of country's 22 governorates.

"But testing and reporting remain limited and it is likely that most areas of the country are already impacted, if not all," the United Nations reports.

Yemen has been engulfed in war since 2014 between Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, who control several regions including the capital Sanaa, and the government backed by a coalition led since 2015 by Saudi Arabia.