Wealthy donor nations, with Saudi Arabia in the lead, have pledged $4bn in aid to Yemen as it grapples with a fragile political transition and struggles to contain the growing threat by al-Qaeda.
Seven aid groups gave warning on Wednesday that Yemen was on the brink of a “catastrophic food crisis” and urged the participants in the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh to bolster efforts to salvage the situation.
The Arabian Peninsula country was rocked by an uprising last year that forced Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down as president in February.
“To ensure Yemen’s security and stability, the kingdom will provide $3.25bn to support development projects there which will be agreed upon with the Yemeni side,” Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi foreign minister, said.
“The Yemeni government is exerting courageous efforts, but without the help of its brothers and friends, Yemen will not be able to solve the crises it is facing.”
Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Sanaa, said: “This money is crucial to Yemenis, as malnutrition rates have doubled since 2009.
“This is a humanitarian pledge but the Saudis are interested in Yemen’s own security – political and military. Poverty and security go hand in hand.”
Support for Yemen “includes providing expertise and help in all fields including economy, security and military”, Saud said.
Alistair Burt, UK’s junior foreign minister, said at the end of the meeting that Britain would contribute $44m.
Twenty-seven countries, including the six oil-rich Gulf Co-operation Council states, the US and UK, as well as international organisations, are attending the Riyadh meeting, the first since Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took over as president on February 21.
The Friends of Yemen forum was set up at an international conference in London in January 2010 to help the country combat a resurgent threat from al-Qaeda in the ancestral homeland of its slain leader, Osama bin Laden.
Mohammed Basindawa, Yemeni prime minister, pleaded for aid for his country,
“The hope is in the political and economic support needed to overcome the transitional period and put an end to the budget deficit,” he said.
“We are confident that you realise the danger and sensitivity of the situation in Yemen which needs lots and lots to recover.”
Mohammed al-Saadi, Yemeni planning minister, had told the AFP news agency his country would ask for about $10bn in urgent aid at the meeting.
So far only 43 per cent of $455m earlier asked for by the UN and other organisations has been received for humanitarian aid for Yemen, with ongoing conflicts in the country’s north and south only exacerbating the crisis.
Saud said two agreements “worth $105m will be signed in the health and power sectors” on Wednesday.
He said Saudi Arabia had also recently provided support to Yemen’s petrolerum and power sectors.
Basindawa said his government was planning development projects that needed funds and were part of a 2012-2013 programme aimed at reviving the economy and stabilising the security, political and social situation.
“The plan includes several projects in the fields of economy, politics, humanitarian assistance and reforms,” he said.
At least 10 million Yemenis, some 44 per cent of the population, do not get “enough food to eat”, and one in three children was “severely malnourished”. the delegates at the Friends of Yemen meeting were told.
Saadi, the planning minister, said there “is an urgent humanitarian need estimated at $470m to help more than 500,000 internally displaced persons in Abyan and Saada” provinces in the south and north.
He said investment projects “important as they are, can be postponed, but not humanitarian aid”.
In the past two months alone, aid agencies say more than 95,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, bringing the total number to more than half a million.
In addition to poverty, Hadi’s rule is challenged by a growing threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by the US as the most active branch of the global network.
As the Riyadh meeting took place, the army pressed on in south Yemen in an offensive against al-Qaeda bastions, leaving six Yemeni soldiers and 22 fighters dead on Wednesday, a security official and locals said.
The new violence raised the death toll from the operations to 262 people killed in 12 days.