UN chief calls for $3.85 billion to answer Yemen's crisis

The UN only received $1.9 billion last year, half of what was needed

FILE PHOTO: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the media during a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after a meeting in Berlin, Germany, December 17, 2020. Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
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The head of the UN on Monday called  for $3.85 billion for Yemen in response to the world's worst humanitarian crisis, as a new rebel offensive added to the misery from a six-year conflict.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a meeting of major donors that more than 20 million Yemenis need help, with 16 million of them expected to go hungry this year and about 50,000 facing famine-like conditions.

“It is impossible to overstate the severity of the suffering in Yemen,” Mr Guterres said.

“We must end this senseless conflict now, and start dealing with its enormous consequences immediately.”

The UN pledging meeting hosted by Switzerland and Sweden took place as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group advanced on government-held Marib – the latest chapter in a struggle that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

“Four million people across Yemen have been forced from their homes,” said Mr Guterres.

“The recent Houthi offensive in Marib threatens to displace hundreds of thousands more.”

The UN chief said that funding fell for Yemen's crisis last year, with the UN receiving $1.9 billion, which was "just half of what we needed, and half of what we received the year before".

Before the talks, the UAE on Friday said it would provide $230 million in assistance to Yemen, focusing on medicines as well as food for six million Yemenis, including one million children.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday agreed to fund World Food Programme projects in Yemen with $40 million.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has warned that lacklustre funding forced the UN to reduce the number of Yemenis receiving free meals from nearly 14 million in 2019 to nine million last year.

The four million Yemenis who lost their handouts last year faced the “long, slow, brutal, painful, agonising process of starving to death”, Mr Lowcock told reporters in an online briefing on Wednesday.

Donors met against a backdrop of renewed fighting in Yemen’s civil war, with a Houthi offensive on Marib, some 120 kilometres east of Yemen’s rebel-held capital, Sanaa, the government’s last northern stronghold and a centre for oil production.

It also comes amid hopes that the administration of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to put pressure on its ally Saudi Arabia could revive a stalled peace process and hasten an end to the conflict.

Fighting erupted in the Arab world's poorest nation in 2014, when the Houthis seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and much of the country's population centres in the north.

An Arab military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the US and Britain intervened in 2015 in a bid to restore the internationally-recognised government of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to power.

The war has killed about 130,000 people and displaced millions, according to international monitors, creating what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.