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U.N. appeal falls short of Yemen's needs

International donors contributed US$1.7 billion for people starving in Yemen, an amount that leaders of humanitarian organizations called disappointing.

A mother prepares lunch for her family at a refugee camp in Yemen
A mother prepares lunch for her family at a refugee camp in Yemen (AN/Khalid al-Banna)

International donors contributed US$1.7 billion for people starving in Yemen, an amount that leaders of humanitarian organizations called disappointing because it is less than half of what is desperately needed for the impoverished nation.

The United Nations-sponsored appeal on Monday, co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, sought almost US$4 billion this year to bring aid to a nation in the grips of the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

But the coronavirus pandemic and allegations of corruption among aid operations in Yemen dampened donors' willingness to open their wallets.

“I am deeply disappointed that after all our warnings, indications show that world leaders today pledged less than half the US$4 billion that Yemenis so desperately need," Jan Egeland, Norwegian Refugee Council's secretary general, said.

"This means continued massive cuts to emergency food, water, shelter and medical support. The shortfall in humanitarian aid will be measured in lives lost," he said. "Yemen needs three things to avert a catastrophe: more money that we can use today; a famine-prevention cease-fire; and full access to people in need."

The war in Yemen has killed 130,000 people, driven 4 million from their homes and shut down or destroyed half the nation's health  facilities. Adding to the urgency are COVID-19, cholera and severe malnutrition among children. Famine threatens half a million people and more than 16 million in Yemen will go hungry in 2021, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned.

Ahead of the pledging conference, Egeland traveled to Yemen to highlight the desperation of families with children dying from starvation and the imminent threat of a full-scale famine.

He put up numerous social media posts, saying he has heared "one horrific story after another from mothers at a children’s malnutrition ward in Al Jamhuriyah Hospital in northern Yemen. They tell me of food aid stopping and being unable to feed their children as a result. The suffering here is beyond belief."

A 'death sentence'

The amount pledged this year fell short of the US$1.9 billion donors provided for Yemen's humanitarian response plan in 2020, when US$3.4 billion was needed — and far less than the US$3 billion given in 2019, when US$4.2 billion was sought.

The top donors this year were Saudi Arabia (US$430 million), Germany (US$245 million), United Arab Emirates (US$230 million), the United States (US$191 million), United Kingdom (US$123 million) and European Commission (US$116 million). The Saudis pledged US$70 million less than in 2020, while the U.S. gave US$35 million less than the year before.

"The outcome of today’s high-level pledging event on Yemen is disappointing," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said. "Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence. The best that can be said about today is that it represents a down payment.  I thank those who did pledge generously, and I ask others to consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades."

Guterres said the "only path to peace" is an immediate cease-fire and set of confidence-building measures, then an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process hosted by the United Nations and supported by the international community.

The war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Iranian-backed Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and northern areas. A Western-backed alliance of Sunni Muslim Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, tried to prop up the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from Sanaa by the militia in 2015.

More recently, the Houthis have pushed for control of the key oil-producing Marib province, east of Sanaa, home to a refinery, power plant and liquefied petroleum gas bottling plant.

Two years ago, U.N. human rights experts reported that France, Iran, the United States and the U.K. may be complicit in potential war crimes in Yemen by providing weapons and logistical support to forces committing abuses, while the governments of Yemen, U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, along with the Houthis and their allies, were violating international humanitarian and human rights law.

The report pointed to airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and blocked access to humanitarian aid in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.  The experts also said they were deeply concerned that the warring sides may have used starvation as a weapon of war.