The UN raised $2.6 billion for Yemen, calling it the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]
by Barbara Bibbo
A UN pledging conference for Yemen has raised about $2.6bn of the $4bn needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country, where about 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of hunger, UN officials said on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the main donors, pledging $500m each and contributing to a 30-percent increase of total pledges from last year.
But the two Gulf countries, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, are also active participants in the ongoing conflict, which has caused what the UN describes as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Houthis have seized control of the capital Sanaa, the Hodeidah port and most of the northeastern part of the country.
The war has caused a humanitarian emergency of catastrophic proportion, according to the UN, especially due to the almost total disregard for international humanitarian law by both the parties.
Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday praised the Gulf countries’ contributions and abstained from any criticism of their role, despite insistent requests from the media to clarify the contradiction in their position as donors as well as parties in the conflict.
“This is a pledging conference and any contribution is welcome despite a country’s role in the war,” he said.
Asked to comment on the ongoing UN investigations for war crimes allegedly committed by all parties in the conflict, Guterres said they will continue as expected.
About 24 million people, 80 percent of the population, need humanitarian aid and protection, UN officials said at the conference.
About 20 million people cannot feed themselves reliably, out of which about 10 million Yemenis are just one step away from famine, according to UN figures.
Since last year, due to the continued fighting and a collapsing economy, an additional two million people fell into the humanitarian crisis.
The worst affected by the conflict are the children. About 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of starvation, according to a report quoted by Guterres.
Eight children a day are being killed as they go to school or play outdoors and from other conflict related causes, according to UNICEF.
About 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition with life threatening consequences.
According to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, every ten minutes in Yemen a child is dying of a preventable disease because of the lack of essential health services. More than two million children not being able to go to school.
“Today Yemen is the worst place on earth for a child,” Cappelaere told Al Jazeera. “I invite the parties to think of their own children when they sit at the negotiating table next time.”
Addressing the media on Monday, Guterres admitted that the humanitarian response cannot suffice to address the Yemeni crisis without the parties’ serious engagement in the peace negotiations.
“There cannot be a humanitarian solution to humanitarian problems,” he said.
The UN chief admitted that the implementation of the agreement reached between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis in December was meeting “obstacles”.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement signed in December 2018 and Security Council resolution 2451 endorsing that agreement, called for a ceasefire in the Hodeidah governorate and a mechanism for exchanging prisoners amongst other confidence building measures.
However, little progress has been achieved since the parties met in Sweden with the each repeatedly accusing each other of not abiding by the agreement.
While violence in Hodeidah has diminished, the conflict continues or has escalated in some areas like Hajjah, while the humanitarian crisis remains catastrophic.
Out of 10 million on the verge of famine, nearly 240,000 of those people are right now facing catastrophic levels of hunger.
Almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare, and nearly 18 million don’t have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.
More than three million people – including two million children – are acutely malnourished.
About 3.3 million remain displaced from their homes, including 685,000 who have fled fighting along the west coast since June 2018.
Amidst the conflict the economy continues to unravel. The exchange rate is about 600 Yemeni Rial to a US dollar – from about 400, which was the level it recovered to following substantial injections of foreign exchange into the Central Bank by Saudi Arabia in late 2018.
As the rate falls, the price of food for ordinary people rises.
The Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 requires about $4bn to reach 15 million across the country.
The pledges made in Geneva will go towards increasing the number of people reached with emergency food aid to 12 million every month, from the 10 million of December last year, amongst other essential health and assistance plans.
According to Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, donations made last year were divided amongst 200 agencies that reached people in all of Yemen’s 333 governorates.
But the UN operations also met with delays and blockades due to restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers and convoys by both parties in the conflict.
In particular, the blockade of the Hodeidah port which alone normally handles 70 percent of food imports entering Yemen and a lifeline for the entire population, has had disastrous consequences so far.
Access to mills
Guterres on Tuesday also announced the UN had regained access to a stocking facility that can potentially feed some 3.7 million people for up to one month.
“We have a good news, we have access to the Red Sea Mills again,” said Guterres.
That was later confirmed by Herve Verhoosel, World Food Programme senior spokesperson.
“I can confirm that the WFP assessment team has gained access today to the Red Sea Mills for the first time since September 2018 when they were cut off by fighting in the area,” said Verhoosel.
At that time there were 51,000 metric tons of wheat in storage at the mills, which is enough to feed 3.7 million people for one month, and represents a quarter of WFP’s wheat flour milling capacity in the country.