People shop at an exhibition of local products in the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, on February 27, 2023. (Photo by Mohammed Huwais / AFP)
CAIRO: The United Nations is seeking $4.3 billion at a pledging conference on Monday to alleviate the suffering of millions of people in Yemen, where an eight-year civil war has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
More than 21 million people in Yemen, or two-thirds of the country’s population, need help and protection, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, which says the humanitarian needs in Yemen are “shocking.” Among those in need, more than 17 million are considered particularly vulnerable.
“The people of Yemen deserve our support. But more than that, they deserve a credible path out of perpetual conflict and a chance to rebuild their communities and country,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressing the donors.
The high-level gathering is co-hosted by Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.N. in the organization’s Palais des Nations in Geneva.
In Monday’s first pledge, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country will provide 120 million euros ($127 million).
“This terrible humanitarian disaster is one the world repeatedly and much too often has almost closed its eyes to,” she told reporters in Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. provided $1.1 billion last year in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, and that they will announce “hundreds of millions more” this week in additional aid to the Arab world’s poorest country.
He called on donors to step up their contributions to meet the humanitarian demands in Yemen, pointing to last year’s funding shortages that forced U.N. agencies to scale down operations including food rations for thousands of families.
“The scale of the challenge we face is daunting. But I urge everyone to keep our focus on the people we seek to help,” he told the conference.
Blinken also called for an end to restrictions on humanitarian workers and operations, especially in Houthi-controlled areas where the rebels restrict the movements of female aid workers by forcing them to be accompanied by male guardians.
The $4.3 billion appeal for 2023 is almost double the $2.2 billion that the U.N. received in 2022 to fund its humanitarian program in Yemen. The U.N. had sought $4.27 billion for 2022.
Monday’s conference comes as the global economy remains rattled by the yearlong Russian invasion of Ukraine. Inflation rates have surged over the past year across the world, forcing many governments to focus on elevating the needs of their own people.
Yemen’s conflict started in 2014, when the Iran-backed rebel Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition intervened months later, in early 2015, to try and dislodge the rebels and restore the internationally recognized government to power.
The conflict has in recent years become a regional proxy war that has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians. The war has also created a horrendous humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
The conference is taking place as the warring sides continue to observe an informal and fragile cease-fire. Efforts are underway to declare a new truce after the parties failed to renew a U.N.-brokered truce in October.
“We have a real opportunity this year to change Yemen’s trajectory and move towards peace, by renewing and expanding the truce,” Guterres, the U.N. chief, said.
The truce, which took effect in April, brought some relief for Yemenis, especially in Houthi-held areas. It enabled commercial traffic to resume at Sanaa’s airport and the sea port of Hodeida.
However, partly because of the territorial division – with roughly half of Yemen under Houthi control and the other half under government control – the country is haunted by an economic crisis. There is dual system of currency, dual exchange rates, restrictions on imports and double taxation on goods, according to the U.N. Panel of Experts investigating Yemen’s conflict. Annual inflation reached 45%, and food prices surged 58%, according to the panel’s report.
There have also been Houthi attacks on oil facilities in government-held areas, resulting in the disruption of oil export, which is a major source of funds for the government.
The war has decimated the country’s civilian infrastructure including its health care system. Hospitals and medical facilities have repeatedly been attacked.
“Yemen requires urgent and robust support from international donors and other partners to effectively avert the potential collapse of its health system,” said Adham Ismail, the World Health Organization’s representative in Yemen.
He said $392 million was needed for WHO-led operations in 2023 to ensure health facilities remain functioning and provide “even the most basic services to the 12.9 million most vulnerable people.”
Climate change has added to the suffering. Yemen, located at the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is “at the forefront” of a global climate crisis, as natural disasters, including floods and arid weather, threaten lives, the U.N. has said.
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