Urgent appeals by humanitarian agencies for funds to avert famine in Yemen have fallen on deaf ears of neighbours waging war in that country and those that are arming them.
Pledges made at Monday’s UN donor conference amounted to $1.67 billion (€1.39 billion), less than half the $3.85 billion needed to finance this year’s life-saving programmes and a $1 billion less than the amount raised in 2019 before the coronavirus gripped the globe.
“Cutting aid is a death sentence,” UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned. “Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades.” He expressed hope that current pledges represent only “a down payment”.
Saudi Arabia, the architect of the Yemeni war, committed to providing $430 million while its partner, the United Arab Emirates pledged $230 million, down from $1 billion divided equally in 2019. The US and Britain proffered a total of $314 million, a fraction of their profits from arms sales fuelling the fighting. Saudi Arabia alone is estimated to have spent $100 billion on the stalemated war.
At least 20 million of 28 million Yemenis are in desperate need of food and health care, four million are homeless and millions more are threatened by ongoing military operations.
The prolonged conflict has plunged Yemen into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
An estimated 230,000 Yemenis have died from violence, starvation and preventable illness since the Saudis and Emiratis intervened militarily in Yemen’s civil conflict six years ago. Nearly 400,000 children currently suffer from acute malnutrition and could die or contract cholera, diphtheria and measles without prompt treatment.
“Every 10 minutes, a child [in Yemen] dies a needless death from diseases,” Mr Gutteres said. He has called for a halt to the war “which is swallowing up a whole generation of Yemenis”.
The latest battleground is strategic, oil-rich Marib province, where Houthi rebels are battling Saudi-sponsored government forces. This risks displacing a million civilians who have sought refuge in camps around the provincial capital.
In an address to the virtual pledging conference, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Riyadh and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government are ready to resolve the conflict and called on the Houthis to cease the offensive in Marib and halt attacks on Saudi Arabia which, he said, had prolonged the war, although it was begun and has been prosecuted by the Saudis and Emiratis.
Damage inflicted in Saudi Arabia by Houthi cross-border missile and drone strikes, however, do not equate with the devastation wreaked by Saudi aerial bombings of hospitals, schools, homes, markets, farms, electricity plants and water treatment facilities.
Seeking an end to conflict, US president Joe Biden has rescinded the terrorist designation imposed on the Houthis by the Trump administration, halted US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen, and suspended arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis. He has also appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking as Yemen envoy.
Houthis are demanding a countrywide ceasefire and an end to the Saudi blockade of territory they control.