Angelina Jolie kicks off $4.3 billion Yemen fundraiser

Actress says aid alone will not solve problems of millions of impoverished Yemenis

UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie shakes hands with a woman displaced by war during a visit to the southern province of Lahej, Yemen March 6, 2022.  REUTERS / Fawaz Salman
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Hollywood star Angelina Jolie on Wednesday kicked off a UN effort to raise about $4.3 billion for war-ravaged Yemen, where humanitarians have seen funding dry up amid pressing crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

The actress, director and celebrity envoy for the UN refugee agency said aid work in Yemen was “drastically underfunded amid a conflict that has gone on for so many years without political solution”.

“The lack of solutions to conflict and insecurity globally is causing unmanageable levels of human displacement and need and stretching humanitarian relief to the point that we see in Yemen today,” Jolie told the online gathering of aid chiefs and humanitarians.

“You have an opportunity as governments to address this desperate human emergency and to seek an urgent end to the conflict.”

More than 17 million people in Yemen need food aid and this could grow to 19 million later this year, the UN reported. By December, those experiencing emergency levels of hunger could reach 7.3 million.

Aid workers have already had to scale back or cut food, health and other vital support to Yemen, where basic services are nearly nonexistent after seven years of fighting between rebel, pro-government and foreign forces.

Food prices, which doubled last year due to a foreign blockade on rebel-held northern Yemen, are set to rise further since much of the country's wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine, where fighting is upending supply chains, said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

Mr Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief co-ordinator, warned of a “huge gap in funding” to pay for food, medicine, shelter and other much-needed aid in Yemen, where the “economy lies in ruins [and] basic services are collapsing”.

“We have never in the past contemplated giving millions of hungry people no food at all,” he said.

He and others worry that donors are scaling back funding to Yemen due to pressing needs in Ukraine, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The UN received a little more than half of the $3.4 billion required in 2020, while last year, donors gave only $2.3 billion.

“Yemen may have receded from the headlines, but the human suffering has not relented,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the start of the half-day meeting, which was co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden.

Jolie last week travelled to Yemen to meet refugees in the secessionist south and rebel-held north, hearing first-hand stories of death, destruction, displacement and a lack of food, health care and schools.

“I visited a makeshift school. It was made up of five small dark rooms, the children were sitting on the floor, and they hadn't eaten, nor had the teacher,” said Jolie.

“They had nothing: no food, no pens, no desks, no schoolbooks, no salary for the teacher, 13-year-olds were sitting next to 3-year-olds, striving to learn to read and write and hope for a future that they may never see.”

Yemen has been mired in chaos since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014, saying they were fighting corruption and foreign aggression.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened the following year to restore the government.

The war has claimed more than 370,000 lives, directly and indirectly, the UN says, and caused widespread suffering, with four fifths of Yemen’s 30 million people needing aid.

Updated: March 16, 2022, 3:08 PM