A United Nations donors conference for Yemen has raised about $2.6bn of the $4bn needed to address the humanitarian crisis in the country, where about 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of hunger, UN officials said on Tuesday.
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But the two Gulf countries, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, are also active participants in the ongoing conflict, which has caused what the UN describes as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen to reinstall the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Houthis have seized control of the capital Sanaa, the Hodeidah port and most of the northeastern part of the country.
The war has caused a humanitarian emergency of catastrophic proportions, according to the UN, due to the blatant disregard for international humanitarian law by both parties.
Nevertheless, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday praised the Gulf countries’ contributions and abstained from any criticism of their actions, despite requests from the media to clarify the contradiction in their positions as donors – as well as parties in the conflict.
“This is a pledging conference and any contribution is welcome despite a country’s role in the war,” he said.
Asked to comment on the ongoing UN investigations on war crimes allegedly committed by all parties in the conflict, Guterres said they would continue as expected.
About 24 million people, 80 percent of the population, need humanitarian aid and protection, UN officials said at the conference.
About 20 million people have no access to food, out of which about 10 million Yemenis are just one step away from famine, according to UN figures.
Since last year, due to the continued fighting and the dire economy, an additional two million people became engulfed in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
Children have borne the brunt of the conflict. About 80,000 children below the age of five have already died of starvation, according to Guterres, who was quoting from a report.
Eight children a day are killed as they go about their daily activities or other conflict-related causes, according to UNICEF, the UN’s agency for child protections.
About 360,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition with life-threatening consequences.
According to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen of a preventable disease because of the lack of essential health services. More than two million children are not able to go to school.
“Today Yemen is the worst place on earth for a child,” Cappelaere told Al Jazeera. “I invite the parties to think of their own children when they sit at the negotiating table next time.”
Addressing the media on Monday, Guterres admitted that the humanitarian response was not enough to address the Yemeni crisis without the parties’ serious engagement in the peace negotiations.
“There cannot be a humanitarian solution to humanitarian problems,” he said.
The UN chief admitted that the implementation of the agreement reached between the Yemeni government and the Houthis in December had met “obstacles”.
The UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement signed in December 2018 and Security Council resolution 2451 endorsing that agreement, called for a ceasefire in the Hodeidah governorate and a mechanism for exchanging prisoners, among other confidence-building measures.
However, little progress has been achieved since the parties met in Sweden, each accusing the other of not abiding by the agreement.
While violence in Hodeidah has diminished, the conflict continues or has escalated in some areas such as Hajjah.
Out of the 10 million on the verge of famine, nearly 240,000 are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.
Almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare, and nearly 18 million don’t have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.
More than three million people – including two million children – are acutely malnourished.
About 3.3 million remain displaced, including 685,000 who have fled fighting along the west coast which has been ongoing since June 2018.
Amid the conflict, the economy continues to unravel. The exchange rate is about 600 Yemeni Rials to the US dollar – up from about 400 Yemeni Rials, which was the level it recovered to following substantial injections of foreign exchange into the Central Bank of Yemen by Saudi Arabia in late 2018.
As the rate falls, the price of food for people rises.
The Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 requires about $4bn to reach 15 million across the country.
The pledges made in Geneva will go towards increasing the number of people given emergency food aid, and heath and assistance to 12 million every month, up from 10 million in December last year.
According to Mark Lowcock, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, donations made last year were divided among the 200 agencies in Yemen’s 333 governorates.
But the UN operations also met delays and blockades due to restrictions imposed on humanitarian workers and convoys by both parties in the conflict.
In particular, the blockade of Hodeidah port which normally handles 70 percent of food imported into Yemen and is a lifeline for the country, has been dire for the country.
Access to mills
Guterres on Tuesday also announced the UN had regained access to a stockpiling facility that can potentially feed some 3.7 million people for up to one month.
“We have good news, we have access to the Red Sea Mills again,” said Guterres.
That was later confirmed by Herve Verhoosel, World Food Programme senior spokesman.
“I can confirm that the WFP assessment team has gained access today to the Red Sea Mills for the first time since September 2018 when they were cut off by fighting in the area,” said Verhoosel.
At that time there were 51,000 metric tonnes of wheat in storage at the mills, which is enough to feed 3.7 million people for one month, and represents a quarter of WFP’s wheat flour-milling capacity in the country.