US announces $225m aid to Yemen as WHO warns of virus spread

UN agency faces scaleback of operations due to lack of funds but new aid will keep support flowing

epa08401650 A volunteer provides free food rations to Yemeni children at a charity group in Sana'a, Yemen, 04 May 2020. According to reports, nearly 80 percent of Yemen's 27 million-population rely on humanitarian aid while half of the population faces famine due to a prolonged conflict that triggered what is considered to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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The US will provide $225 million in emergency aid to Yemen to support food programmes, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

Aid groups in Yemen are being forced to scale down operations due to Houthi interference and amid a spreading coronavirus outbreak.

"This assistance will provide the UN World Food Programme’s emergency food operation in southern Yemen, as well as a reduced operation in northern Yemen, which the WFP was forced to scale down earlier this month because of the ongoing interference of the Iran-backed Houthis," Mr Pompeo said.

Yemen is already grappling with the world's biggest humanitarian crisis caused by the Houthis overrunning the capital Sanaa in 2014 and driving out the internationally recognised government.

About 80 per cent of Yemen's population, or 24 million people, rely on aid and 10 million are facing famine.

Yemen has the world's fourth-highest internally displaced population and health care is scarce in rural areas.

The country has reported 26 coronavirus infections with six deaths, but its inadequate testing and shattered health system has aid groups fearing a devastating outbreak.

The World Health Organisation said that only 200 test results had been delivered nationwide.

Executive director of the WHO's emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, said the agency believed the coronavirus was spreading at a community level in Yemen, and the UN has warned that the country could register 16 million cases.

Under such circumstances, a gap in aid funding is a major risk.

The UN last week said 31 of 41 major UN humanitarian assistance programmes would scale down or stop in coming weeks without more money.

Donors and aid agencies have increasingly complained of interference and obstruction from Houthi authorities.

Reuters reported last month the US was readying a "substantial contribution" to help Yemen.

But it had to find alternatives to the WHO after US President Donald Trump criticised the agency being "China-centric" over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and cut funding.