UN laments Yemen fighting, calls on Arab donors to pay up


United Nations (United States) (AFP)

Two senior UN officials on Tuesday voiced concerns about the worsening situation in war-wracked Yemen, warning of the risk of famine and slamming several Arab donors, including Saudi Arabia, for failing to deliver on their pledges.

Fighting in Yemen over the last six years has claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, and sparked what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that Yemen could "slip back away from the road to peace."

He cited "increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs and the Covid-19 pandemic " as among the factors in play.

Griffiths said he had sent all warring parties a draft of a "joint declaration" reflecting what had been said in previous rounds of talks.

"Now is the time for the parties to swiftly conclude the negotiations and finalize the Joint Declaration," he said.

The internationally recognized government in Yemen has been battling the Iran-allied Huthis since 2014, when the rebels seized much of the north including the capital Sanaa.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the side of the government the following year.

Griffiths noted concerns about clashes in the northern Marib region, and said that violations of the ceasefire reached in December 2018 had become daily in the area near Hodeida.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned that the "specter of famine has returned" in Yemen.

"Several donors -- including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who have a particular responsibility, which they have discharged in recent years -- have so far given nothing" to this year's aid plan, he said, in a rare direct rebuke of member states.

"It is particularly reprehensible to promise money, which gives people hope that help may be on the way, and then to dash those hopes by simply failing to fulfil the promise."

- 'Death sentence' -

Lowcock said that more than nine million people had been affected by cuts to aid programs, including those focused on food, water and health care.

The UN estimates that three-quarters of Yemen's population of 29 million depend on some form of aid for survival.

"Continuing to hold back money from the humanitarian response now will be a death sentence for many families," he warned.

"So yet again, I call on all donors to pay their pledges now and increase their support."

Germany criticized the attitude of Arab donors as particularly shocking.

Lowcock said the conflict had escalated in recent weeks, particularly in central Yemen.

"In August, more civilians were killed across the country than any other month this year," he said. "The worst hunger in Yemen is mainly in conflict-affected areas."

Neither Griffiths nor Lowcock offered an assessment of progress in the standoff with Huthis over a loaded oil storage tanker decaying off Yemen's coast.

The 45-year-old FSO Safer, abandoned near the port of Hodeida since 2015, has 1.1 million barrels of crude on board, and a rupture or explosion would have catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences.

The Huthis have blocked the United Nations from sending a team of inspectors to assess the vessel.

In a statement released Tuesday by Oxfam, 31 Yemeni non-governmental organizations called on the international community and donors to "exert more pressure on conflicting parties and their backers to immediately halt military operations across the country."

The NGOs also want the international community to "ensure that all efforts are focused towards fighting the spread of Covid-19 and returning to peace negotiations."