Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

UK pledges £160m in Yemen aid before donor conference

UN and Saudi Arabia will host meeting aims to raise $2.4bn for war-torn country

Yemeni sanitation workers, wearing protective gear, spray disinfectant in a neighbourhood in the northern Hajjah province on May 31, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP
Yemeni sanitation workers, wearing protective gear, spray disinfectant in a neighbourhood in the northern Hajjah province on May 31, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP

The UK pledged £160 million (Dh734.3m/US$587.7m) in aid for Yemen on Tuesday ahead of a virtual donor conference for the war-torn country.

The meeting, co-hosted for the first time by the UN and Saudi Arabia, aims to raise $2.4 billion (Dh8.8bn) to support aid operations in Yemen this year and help authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Aid agencies and international donors will raise awareness about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and announce pledges to address the dire needs in the country.

Yemen has so far recorded 323 infections and 80 fatalities from coronavirus, but numbers are thought to be much higher because the rate of testing remains very low.

Nearly a quarter of Yemen’s districts have no doctors and only half of the country’s health facilities are functional, with 20 million people lacking any access to medical care.

Humanitarian groups assist more than 10 million Yemenis every month but without additional funds, life-saving programmes will be forced to reduce or close.

"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," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

"Our support will help ensure families can feed themselves and access clean water and medical care."

The event will be hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and Mark Lowcock, the UN's undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will address the opening ceremony.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the top donors for UN humanitarian aid operations in Yemen.

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber, said the kingdom would allocate $500m this year to support UN programmes, including $25m for a Covid-19 response plan.

Last week, Mr Lowcock said the UN received $3.2bn for Yemen after countries in the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, stepped up.

Despite this, the organisation still fell short of its $4.2bn goal.

Mr Lowcock said he expected high-level representation at Tuesday's conference.

“Is the world ready simply to watch Yemen fall off the cliff?” he asked.

The international body had to shut down or reduce operations for almost 75 per cent of its programmes in Yemen due to the funding crisis.

UN agencies say 80 per cent of the population, or 24 million people, rely on aid to survive.

And Yemen's battered healthcare system is struggling to cope with the outbreak of coronavirus on top of diseases such as cholera.

"If we don't get the funding we need and if more isn't done to suppress the virus, Covid-19 could engulf Yemen," said the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government praised the UN and Saudi Arabia for their help.

"I reaffirm the government of Yemen’s profound gratitude and appreciation to all its international partners for helping to protect and save Yemeni people these past five turbulent years," said Yemen's ambassador to the US, Ahmed bin Mubarak.

"May this year’s pledging conference be followed by peace soon emerging in Yemen."

Mr bin Mubarak also urged the Houthi rebels to end their restrictions on the operations of international aid agencies and delivery of humanitarian goods to those in need.

Various aid agencies, including USAid, have warned the Houthis that they will suspend relief deliveries to areas under rebel control if they do not lift impediments to their operations.

Yemen’s civil war started when Houthi rebels backed by Iran captured the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The following year, a Saudi-led coalition intervened to battle the rebels at the request of the internationally recognised government.

The conflict is at a stalemate, with the rebels retaining control of much of northern Yemen, including Sanaa.

Updated: June 2, 2020 10:14 AM

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