UN aid conference for Yemen falls short amid warnings of widespread famine and deaths

At the UN pledging conference for Yemen, Gulf countries that are party to the war in Yemen, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, failed to commit any aid

March 22, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
UN conference for Yemen
(Photo: Middle East Online)

The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday, March 16, expressed disappointment that the international pledging conference it had organized to raise humanitarian funds for Yemen failed to raise even one-third of the required amount. The UN warned that the lack of funds could have devastating consequences for millions of displaced civilians in Yemen. The country is already facing widespread deaths, famine and malnutrition. 

The UN pledging conference, co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, managed to raise only USD 1.3 billion out of a total required sum of USD 4.27 billion, forcing the organizers to think about holding a second pledging conference this year to raise the remaining amount. The international community had failed to meet the funding goals set by the UN last year as well, raising only about USD 1.7 billion for Yemen out of the USD 3.85 billion required at a similar conference. By the end of the year, this aid was increased to USD 2.3 billion with additional funding.

Following the completion of the conference, the UN humanitarian chief said that 36 of the international donors present had pledged the stated amount, “but let us be under no illusions: We hoped for more. And it is a disappointment that we weren’t able, as yet, to get pledges from some we thought we might hear from. We will be working hard to make sure that … we do stand in solidarity with the people of Yemen.”

Notably, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two regional powers involved in the war in Yemen, did not pledge any humanitarian aid at the conference. The EU Commission committed USD 172 million to the funding pledge, the largest funding amount from Brussels to Yemen since the start of the conflict. The US, one of the major diplomatic, military and intelligence backers of the Saudi-led Gulf military coalition, pledged USD 585 million in fresh humanitarian aid to Yemen. This brings the total support from the US since the start of the conflict to USD 4.5 billion. Switzerland’s humanitarian chief Manuel Bessler questioned other oil-rich Gulf countries, many of whom are part of the Saudi-led coalition, saying “we are very curious to hear from donors from the Gulf, where they’re standing and what their intention is to address this funding crisis.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres was quoted by news outlets as saying that Yemen is facing multiple socio-economic issues like poverty and hunger, with two out of every three Yemenis living in extreme poverty. He appealed to the international community saying, “as a matter of moral responsibility, of human decency and compassion, of international solidarity, and of life and death – we must support the people of Yemen now.” He further added that “Yemen may have receded from the headlines, but the human suffering has not relented. A funding crunch risks catastrophe.” The war and conflict in Ukraine has had a negative effect on the situation in Yemen as the country relies heavily on Ukrainian food imports. One-third of Yemen’s wheat is imported from Ukraine. 

According to UN World Food Programme (WFP) statistics, out of the 31.9 million Yemeni population, 23.4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 12.9 million are in acute need. The required aid is critical for providing assistance to 17.3 million people who are in urgent need of food aid. The UN has said that this number will surpass 19 million in the second half of 2022, with 160,000 people set to face dire ‘famine-like’ conditions. WFP executive director David Beasley while speaking at the conference said that “It’s absolutely devastating, and now we’re out of money. The number of people knocking on famine’s door will rise from more than five million to more than seven million.”

War and civil violence erupted in Yemen in late 2014 after the Houthi militias overran large parts of the north of the country including capital Sanaa and overthrew the government. In 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating military intervention in Yemen and imposed a blockade of vital ports in the territory controlled by the Houthis. The coalition’s intervention aggravated the already declining humanitarian and economic situation in the country. The UN has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis of the century. The intense fighting and tens of thousands of coalition airstrikes, deliberately targeting civilians, have resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries over the last eight years. The UN estimates that over 377,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of the war. A staggering 70% of these deaths were among children. Around 4.5 million Yemenis have been internally displaced and are forced to seek refuge in relatively safer parts of the country. Efforts to end the war have been made, with the Houthi movement on Wednesday welcoming the news of potential talks with Saudi Arabia. The Houthis said that the venue should be a neutral country. The Gulf Cooperation Council is also planning to invite the parties in the war in Yemen, including the Houthis, for consultations in Saudi capital Riyadh.