UAE and Saudi Arabia announce $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen

The UN pledging conference raised $2.6 billion for the war torn country, representing a 30 per cent increase on the previous year

epa07398720 United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media during a stakeout after the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 26 February 2019.  EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
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The UAE and Saudi Arabia promised to contribute $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) each in humanitarian aid for Yemen at a UN pledging conference in Geneva on Tuesday, as aid officials reached the Red Sea Mills in Yemen’s Hodeidah port for the first time in six months.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday that pledges of donations for humanitarian work in Yemen at the conference reached $2.6bn, a 30 per cent increase on the amount pledged at a similar donor conference last year.

It was the third pledging conference for Yemen in hopes of drumming up some $4bn this year for the war torn country facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"There will be impartiality, neutrality and independence in the way the distribution is made, which means that the distribution will impact both areas controlled by the government and areas controlled by the Houthis," he said.

The conference highlighted that 80 per cent of the Yemeni population needs urgent humanitarian assistance and protection.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia's contribution was largely responsible for "the possibility to have an increase of thirty per cent in the response to the humanitarian needs in the country," Mr Guterres said.

"An additional $500m will be allocated to support humanitarian action in Yemen," Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE's Minister of State for International Co-operation said during the opened of the conference.

Ms Al Hashimy said the UAE had previously pledged $930m to Yemen and provided an additional $70m to Unicef.

The $500m announced on Tuesday will be in addition to this.

Kuwait pledged $250m at the event, while the European Union promised $162m.

More than $4 billion is needed to support Yemenis suffering from years of conflict and food insecurity, the UN said ahead of the conference.

But aid agencies say funding alone will not suffice and that action is needed to prevent air strikes on civilian areas.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the conference's host, lamented "an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe" where some 24 million people, or four-fifths of Yemen's total population, require aid and protection.

"Twenty million people cannot reliably feed themselves or their families," he said, adding that "almost 10 million are just one step away from famine."

The World Food Programme (WFP) Yemen's Country Director, Stephen Anderson, told The National, that 70 per cent of the Yemeni population is considered hungry and about half of them require monthly food assistance for survival.

"WFP has been extending assistance in the last year to about 7-8 million people a month and now we are in the process of scaling up to about 12 million, which makes around 40 per cent of the population," Mr Anderson said.

A team from WFP on Tuesday visited a grain facility caught on a frontline where the organisation has enough wheat to feed 3.7 million Yemenis for a month.

"I'm very pleased with what has been accomplished so far today," Mr Anderson said.

WFP will now assess how much food and how much wheat remains, as well as the condition of the Red Sea Mills facility.

"Today will be the preliminary assessment, we will then draw up a plan of exactly what we need to do to extract the grain, the milling facility itself is working and it can be restarted," he said.

The organisation has previously warned the food is at risk of rotting.

UN officials have constantly warned that they are running out of money in a country also facing a devastated health care system.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) told The National that almost 70 per cent of the country's health care is on the verge of collapse.

"Currently there is a permanent shortage of important medication and the ICRC are bridging the gap for this," ICRC's head of delegation in Yemen, Franz Rauchenstein said.

Yemen's health situation is incapable of responding to many civilians that are fighting on the front lines, Mr Rauchenstein said.

"What will help is finding a political solution to the conflict, it is dire," he said, adding that while response to emergency crises is vital, what is needed are strong state institutions that will addresses the country's long term needs.

As many as two million Yemeni children are suffering from acute malnutrition and have a very limited opportunity to an education, Unicef's Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere told The National.

"Every ten minutes in Yemen a child is dying from preventable diseases simply because the child doesn’t have access to life saving vaccines or a child suffering from acute malnutrition," Mr Cappelaere said.

Schools have been destroyed, used for displaced, or used for military purposes, he said.

Mr Cappelaere expressed great gratitude towards the UAE and other donor countries for the amounts that were pledged, however, he stressed that the war must come to an end.

"Generosity alone will not save this issue, generosity is a plaster on a very deep big wound and that plaster alone will not heal the wounds and for that to heal a political solution is needed," Mr Cappelaere said.

The development comes as UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in Sanna to salvage a peace deal reached during talks in Sweden last December.

A deal that was meant to witness the withdrawal of Houthi and governmental troops from the vital port city appears to have stalled.

Mr Griffiths will discuss the implementation of the deal with Houthi rebel leader Abdul-Malek Al Houthi, a UN source told The National.

The war in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people, and ensuing economic collapse have left millions facing severe hunger.