A comprehensive solution needed for Yemen

A donors’ conference for Yemen, hosted by the United Nations and Saudi Arabia recently raised US$1.35 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen. Although the amount of money raised was not as much as expected, in the context of the world facing numerous difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its to be considered one of the efforts needed to prevent humanitarian tragedy in this Middle East country.

A woker carries a sack of wheat flour outside a food store amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 13, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
A woker carries a sack of wheat flour outside a food store amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa, Yemen May 13, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that Aid workers face a “race against time” to prevent catastrophe in Yemen, a country ravaged by war and a fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak. It could be an even worse disaster if the disease spreads widely in this war-torn country.

Over the past six years, the conflict in Yemen has led to tens of thousands of deaths, mostly civilians, and has sparked the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Currently about 80% of the country’s population, or 24 million people, are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. The international community is placing high importance on emergency humanitarian relief to avoid a “worst-case scenario” if the situation is not remedied.

The UN's relief project for Yemen is facing a great challenge as their budgets have been cut and the situation has reached an alarming level. The UN has received only US$516.6 million out of the US$3.4 billion it needs to raise by the end of this year. Right before the conference, UN humanitarian aid organisations said they had to stop some relief operations due to funding difficulties, even asthe COVID-19 epidemic threatens Yemen.

According to Lise Grande, the head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, General health services in 189 of the country's 369 hospitals will start to close in three weeks. Water and sanitation services for 8.5 million people, including 3 million children, will close in three weeks. Nutritional support for 2.5 million malnourished starving children will start to close in eight to 10 weeks.

The UN hoped that this conference would raise about US$2.4 billion in aid to help Yemen address emergency humanitarian needs such as health and food. However, the amount of aid commitments has only reached around 50% of the set target.

Funding for Yemen was narrowed due to a number of factors, of which the leading reason was the Houthi rebels, who are now controlling the capital city of Sanaa and other regions. The rebels have conducted several air strikes against the interests of Saudi Arabia, the nation that is leading an anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen. The US, one of the largest donors, reduced aid to Yemen earlier this year, citing the intervention of the Houthi force in UN aid operations.

Among the participating countries in the conference, Germany decided to spend US$ 139.8 million, whilst the UK agreed to spend US$201 million on humanitarian efforts in Yemen. The US has not announced the amount of funding at the conference, but said it would make commitments in the near future. Saudi Arabia has pledged to provide US$500 million in support of Yemen, of which US$ 300 million will be transferred to UN agencies and US$ 200 million to Yemen-related projects. However, these figures are considered as “a drop in the ocean” in terms of the actual level of relief needed to revive this Middle Eastern country.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock warned that the world could watch Yemen "fall off the cliff" as tens of millions of people are struggling. The UN called for a commitment to provide practical aid for Yemen because the country’s health system is in need of upgrade whilst people need food immediately. Acomprehensive solution should be devised through political negotiation in order to put an end to the prolonged conflict in the country.