Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Saudi Arabia pledges $500m to support Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

UN chief says before Saudi conference that Yemen is 'hanging by thread'

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned world leaders Covid-19 could cause widespread famine. Reuters
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned world leaders Covid-19 could cause widespread famine. Reuters

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday pledged $500 million (Dh1,836m) to boost Yemen’s humanitarian response plan during a donor conference for the war-torn country.

The announcement came at an online meeting the kingdom co-hosted with the UN to shore up financial support for the war-torn country as it faces the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference aimed to raise $2.4 billion to support aid operations in Yemen this year and help authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Such difficult circumstances with the spread of Covid-19 has brought the health system capacities to its knees in handling any type of crisis

Yara Khawaja

Abdullah Al Rabeeah, adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, said that of the $500m, $300m would go to the UN and $200m to the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.

Another $30m would go to projects clearing landmines, Mr Al Rabeeah said.

The people of Yemen are in urgent need of help because of the inhuman practices of the Houthi rebels and the war, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said in opening remarks.

"The kingdom affirms its support to relieve the suffering of the Yemeni people since the beginning of the war," Prince Faisal said.

“The kingdom has provided more than $16bn and this includes 477 projects conducted by the King Salman relief projects.”

He said Houthi militias were obstructing humanitarian workers.

The kingdom was keen to host the online conference despite the exceptional circumstances the whole world is experiencing with the coronavirus outbreak, Prince Faisal said.

The UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, Reem Al Hashimy, said the world had changed and the humanitarian response needed to be adapted.

“We have always been at the forefront of these kinds of responses and topped $6bn in Yemen humanitarian support,” Ms Al Hashimy said.

The EU pledged more than €70m (Dh287m/US$78.1m), with more than half of that to help Yemen tackle the pandemic.

Canada pledged $40m during the conference and brought attention to the desperate plight of women and children in the war-torn country.

The UK pledged £160m (Dh734.1m/$200.6m) in aid for Yemen.

"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," said Dominic Raab, the British Foreign Secretary.

Yemen is "hanging by a thread", the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said before the conference.

“It is clear that Covid-19 poses a threat everywhere but we are in a race against time in Yemen," Mr Guterres said.

"There are shortages of medical devices, equipment and health workers."

He called for an end to the war, saying “Yemenis desperately need peace”.

Yemen has been suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in the world after six years of conflict, which has left about 80 per cent of its population in need of aid, said Yara Khawaja, International Red Cross spokeswoman for Yemen.

“Such difficult circumstances with the spread of Covid-19 has brought the health system capacities to its knees in handling any type of crisis," Ms Khawaja told The National.

"Yemen needs as much support as it can get. Therefore, the ICRC welcomes any initiative that can help alleviate the suffering of millions of people."

Yemenis say things are worse now than in any other time, said Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

“The biggest challenge now is the money," Mr Lowcock said. "Pledges will not save lives unless they are paid.

"Yemen is right on the cliff edge, below which lies a tragedy of historic proportions.

“Cutting funding to one part of the country is tantamount to the collective punishment for civilians."

UN agencies are delivering assistance to more than 10 million people every month.

“Delivering aid in Yemen is never easy," Mr Lowcock said. "We need assistance from everyone.

"In the north, we need help to relieve the strain on our programmes."

The conference raised $1.35bn, below the $3.2bn raised last year for Yemen's humanitarian needs.

Updated: June 3, 2020 08:31 AM

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