RIYADH: International donors at a Saudi-hosted UN conference on Tuesday promised $1.35 billion in new humanitarian aid for Yemen.
The Kingdom itself pledged an aid package worth $500 million, and Britain offered a new tranche of support worth $200 million.
“This targeted UK aid package will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of Yemenis, who now also face the threat of coronavirus,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
Germany also promised $140 million in assistance. The virtual conference took place as aid groups warned the COVID-19 pandemic could wreak havoc in Yemen after years of conflict and crippling funding shortages.
“We are in a race against time,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Aid agencies estimate they will need up to $2.41 billion to cover essential aid from June until December, including programs to counter COVID-19.”
Without the required funding, more than 30 out of 41 major UN programs in Yemen could close in the next few weeks, Guterres warned. “Tackling COVID-19 on top of the existing humanitarian emergency requires urgent action,” he said.
Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated 4 million people displaced by war and tens of thousands afflicted by malnutrition and disease.
The UN says COVID-19 has probably already spread throughout most of Yemen, while the Yemeni government has officially recorded only a few hundred cases.
“COVID-19 has created new needs there, but it is just the latest challenge in an already deteriorating situation,” said Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief). “Yemen needs a lot of help, not least because of its weak health system.”
The Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who led the Saudi presence at the conference, said Saudi Arabia was keen to support UN efforts to reach a sustainable political solution to the Yemeni crisis, to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and support humanitarian and economic developments to restore security and stability.
Guterres said death rates from COVID-19 in the southern city of Aden alone were among the highest in the world. “There are shortages of testing devices, oxygen, ambulances and basic protective equipment,” he said. “Even hospitals that are operational and equipped may not have a reliable electricity supply.”
The main reason for the shortage of funds in Yemen is obstruction by Iran-backed Houthi militias, who control the capital, Sanaa. The US decreased its aid to Yemen this year, because of interference by the Houthis.