UN Forced to Cut Aid to Yemen 06/01 06:29
CAIRO (AP) -- Aid organizations are making an urgent plea for funding to
shore up their operations in war-torn Yemen, saying they have already been
forced to stop some of their work even as the coronavirus rips through the
Some 75% of U.N. programs in Yemen have had to shut their doors or reduce
operations. The global body's World Food Program had to cut rations in half and
U.N.-funded health services were reduced in 189 out of 369 hospitals nationwide.
"It's almost impossible to look a family in the face, to look them in the
eyes and say, ?I'm sorry but the food that you need in order to survive we have
to cut in half,'" Lise Grande, resident U.N. coordinator for Yemen, told The
The dwindling funds are the result of several factors, but among the top
reasons is obstruction by Yemen's Houthi rebels, who control the capital,
Sanaa, and other territories. The United States, one of the largest donors,
decreased its aid to Yemen earlier this year, citing interference by the
It's yet to be seen whether the Houthis will allow monitoring and oversight
or give U.N. agencies the space to operate. A U.N. pledging conference for
Yemen on Tuesday seeks $2.41 billion to cover essential activities from June to
Grande said the Houthis are working to become more transparent, and that she
hopes this will encourage donor countries to give aid.
Her optimism, however, comes as the Houthis face heavy criticism for
suppressing information about the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in
areas they control, while putting no mitigation measures in place.
Tuesday's conference will be co-hosted for the first time by Saudi Arabia
a major player in Yemen's civil war since it first unleashed a bombing
campaign in 2015 to try to push back the Iranian-backed Houthis who had seized
the northern half of the country.
Critics question the Saudis' high-profile role in rallying humanitarian
support even as they continue to wage a war as do the Houthis that has
created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Maysaa Shuja al-Deen, a Yemeni researcher and a non-resident fellow at the
Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, said the kingdom is trying to repair its
international image by changing the conversation.
Saudi Arabia "has always tried to change the narrative of the war and
present itself as a backer of the legitimate government, not part of the
conflict," she said.
In past years, the kingdom has been one of the top donors for U.N.
humanitarian aid operations in Yemen. The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed
al-Jaber, said the kingdom will allocate half a billion dollars this year to
support U.N. programs, including $25 million for a COVID-19 response plan.
The U.N. itself has also investigated allegations of corruption and
diversion of aid in Yemen in its own ranks.
Reports indicate that the coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate
throughout the country.
Among the slashed programs is financial support to thousands of health
workers who haven't received salaries from the government for nearly three
years. Grande said that just a week before the first coronavirus case was
announced in Yemen, aid agencies had to stop paying health workers.
Without salaries, medical staff won't be able to provide health services to
patients amid the pandemic.
The U.N. received around $3.6 billion in 2019 in international donations for
its campaign, short of its $4.2 billion goal. For its 2020 plan, it has so far
received only 15% out of the needed $3.5 billion.
Yemen has been caught in a grinding war since 2014 when Houthi rebels
descended from their northern enclave and took over Sanaa, forcing the
internationally recognized president to flee. In the spring of 2015, a
U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition began a destructive air campaign to dislodge
the Houthis while imposing a land, sea and air embargo on Yemen.
The air war and fighting on the ground has killed more than 100,000 people,
shut down or destroyed half of Yemen's health facilities, and driven 4 million
Yemenis from their homes. Cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among
children have led to thousands of additional deaths.
As the war enters its sixth year, with no sign of a viable cease-fire, the
suffering looks set to continue. Fighting has continued unabated along several
front lines in Yemen, including in Marib, an oil-rich eastern province,
threatening new waves of displacement.
The U.N.'s massive aid program, totaling $8.35 billion since 2015, is vital
to keeping many Yemenis alive. Ten million people are on the brink of famine
and 80% of the 30 million population are in need of aid, according to the U.N.
With the coronavirus spreading, more money is needed.
Since April, authorities in areas controlled by Yemen's internationally
recognized government reported 283 cases, including 85 deaths. The Houthis
declared only four cases, including one death.
The World Health Organization believes that there is a significant
underestimation of the outbreak, which could further hinder efforts to get
supplies into Yemen that are needed to contain the virus.
Richard Brennan, the WHO's regional emergency director, told the AP that he
believes the deaths are in the hundreds and cases in the thousands, based on
what he's heard from numerous health care providers. But he said the lack of
funding means the organization's health programs are hanging by a thread.
The International Rescue Committee, an aid group, said Yemen is conducting
just 31 tests per one million people, among the world's lowest scores.
With increasing needs and fewer funds, the U.N. refugee agency will have to
stop cash assistance and shelter programs for more than 50,000 displaced
families by August, said spokeswoman Heba Kanso. She said the agency will be
forced to end its partnership with dozens of Yemeni NGOs that will have let go
more than 1,500 national staff.
Relief agencies worry that donors will give less as many countries struggle
their own virus outbreaks. But they warn that the world's worst humanitarian
crisis can indeed get much worse.
"The world's attention is diverted elsewhere and these are the vulnerable
among the most vulnerable on the planet, and we need a commitment," said