UN issues urgent plea for Yemen ahead of pledging conference

Agencies are seeking $2.4 billion to help the country cope with war and virus this year

A man walks while clad in mask due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic along an alley at an open-air market in Yemen's capital Sanaa on May 20, 2020, as Muslims shop ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.  / AFP / Mohammed HUWAIS
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The United Nations has urgently appealed for $2.4 billion to help millions of people in Yemen cope with the conflict and Covid-19, saying programmes are already being cut and the situation is “alarming”.

The UN sought about $3.4bn for Yemen this year but as of Wednesday it had only received $516.6 million, just over 15 per cent, humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told a briefing on Thursday.

The appeal was issued just days before the UN and Saudi Arabia co-host a video pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia pledged $525 million in early April.

Mr Lowcock said the UN received $3.2 billion for Yemen because countries in the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, stepped up.

He said he expected high-level representation at Tuesday's conference, and asked: “Is the world ready simply to watch Yemen fall off the cliff?”

Mr Lowcock and the heads of 10 other UN agencies and several UN officials and humanitarian organisations issued a joint statement saying “Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”.

“Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work,” they said. “Of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds.”

“This means many more people will die,” they warned.

The 17 signatories said they have the skills, staff and capacity to meet the difficult challenges of delivering aid in Yemen but no money and time is running out.

Muhannad Hadi, the World Food Programme’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, told the video briefing that the UN agency needs about $200 million a month to provide assistance to 12 million Yemenis. They have had to start cutting back to try to stretch their money and the food they have in the country, he said.

Henrietta Fore, head of the UN children’s agency Unicef and one of the signatories, told the briefing that its funding was very low and urged donors to be generous.

More than 12 million children across Yemen need humanitarian assistance and nearly half a million require treatment for severe acute malnutrition and "could die if they do not receive urgent care”, she said.

“We are confronting a crisis on top of a crisis – a pandemic on top of a brutal conflict,” she warned. “Today, the pandemic is pushing Yemen even closer to the brink of collapse.”

Officially, 50 people have died from the new coronavirus and infections have been reported in 10 of country's 22 governorates. But the UN said testing and reporting remain limited and it was likely that "most areas of the country are already impacted, if not all".

Yemen’s civil war started with Houthi Shiite rebels backed by Iran capturing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The following year, a Saudi-led coalition intervened to battle the rebels at the request of the internationally recognised government. The conflict is at a stalemate, with the rebels retaining control of much of northern Yemen including Sanaa.


Coronavirus in the Middle East