UN donor nations pledge $1.35 billion in aid for war-ravaged, Covid-hit Yemen

Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud (C), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, wears a protective mask during a virtual donor conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 2, 2020.
Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud (C), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, wears a protective mask during a virtual donor conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 2, 2020. © Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters

International donors promised $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid to Yemen on Tuesday, United Nations aid chief Mark Lowcock told a pledging conference to help the war-torn country.


UN chief Antonio Guterres Tuesday sought to raise $2.41 billion to support Yemen, ravaged by war and coronavirus, at a donor conference hosted by Saudi Arabia in the sixth year of its military intervention.

The virtual conference comes as aid groups warn the virus could wreak havoc in Yemen after years of conflict and amid crippling funding shortages.

"We are in a race against time," said United Nations Secretary General Guterres.

"Aid agencies estimate they will need up to $2.41 billion to cover essential aid from June until December, including programmes to counter Covid-19."

Without the required funding, more than 30 out of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen could close in the next few weeks, Guterres warned.

"Tackling Covid-19 on top of the existing humanitarian emergency requires urgent action," he added.

Humanitarian crisis

Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated four million people displaced by war and tens of thousands afflicted by malnutrition and disease.

Saudi Arabia, a key player in the conflict that counts itself as a top donor to Yemen, pledged an aid package worth $500 million at the event.

Britain, a leading arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, stepped in with a new aid package for Yemen worth £160 million ($200 million).

"This targeted UK aid package will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of Yemenis, who now also face the threat of coronavirus," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

Germany announced 125 million euros ($139.8 million) in assistance to Yemen.

Lowcock, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said $180 million of the required funding was needed to combat the fast-spreading virus.

Guterres said in the de facto capital Aden, reports indicated the mortality rates from Covid-19 were "among the highest in the world".

As the coronavirus spreads, some 5.5 million people risk losing access to food and clean water in Yemen this year, said a survey by 24 international aid groups, including Save the Children.

"The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is now compounded by an unprecedented pandemic," a statement said.

'Running out of time'

Saudi Arabia, which leads a military intervention against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, has contributed billions of dollars in aid to Yemen in recent years.

But the Saudi-led coalition is also widely blamed for civilian casualties in bombing raids that campaigners say have pushed the country deeper into crisis.

A rebel spokesman dismissed the Saudi-led conference as a "silly attempt to (gloss over) their crimes", according to Houthi-run Al-Masirah television.

"Saudi Arabia keeps trying to whitewash its coalition's role in the deepening humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, but co-hosting the funding event won't fool anyone," said Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The Saudi-led coalition, along with Houthi forces that have brutalized civilians and obstructed aid, should immediately ... put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen for which they're all responsible."

The UN's Jens Laerke has warned that aid agencies are heading towards a "fiscal cliff" due to a lack of funding that threatens key UN programmes.

"Those who have given an indication of pledges (are urged) to actually pay early because the operation in Yemen is severely, severely underfunded," said Laerke, a spokesman with the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA.

Top officials from other UN agencies in Yemen have also appealed for urgent international support.

"We are increasingly alarmed about the situation in Yemen," officials from UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement. "We are running out of time.”

Covid-19 'catastrophe' warning

International medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that Yemen faces a "catastrophe" from the pandemic.

The UN says Covid-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, while the Yemeni government has officially recorded only a few hundred cases.

"Covid-19 has created new needs there, but (it) is just the latest challenge in an already deteriorating situation," said Abdullah al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.

"Yemen needs a lot of help, not least because of its weak health system."

The conflict between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition intervened against the rebels after they overran much of the country.

Further muddying the waters are tensions between two anti-Houthi allies – the Yemeni government and southern separatists, which declared self-rule in southern Yemen on April 26.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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