Eight million Yemenis could lose aid next month as war rages

As the conflict in Yemen intensifies, an ‘unprecedented’ lack of funds is slashing humanitarian programmes, UN says.

Displaced Yemeni children are pictured at the entrance of a tent used as a makeshift classroom, in the Khokha area of Yemen's war-torn western province of Hodeidah.
Aid agencies in Yemen are quickly running out of money, forcing them to slash life-saving programmes [File: Khaled Ziad/AFP]

Eight million Yemenis will likely lose all humanitarian aid in March unless urgent funds are delivered, United Nations officials have warned, amid an escalation in a long-running war that last month caused the highest toll in civilian casualties in at least three years.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that January has seen nearly two-thirds of major UN aid programmes being scaled back or closed, while combat zones have multiplied.

Yemen has been at war since 2014, when the Houthi rebels took control of much of the country’s north, including the capital, Sanaa, forcing the president to first flee to the south and then to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led military coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed by the United States with the aim of restoring President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

Grundberg said a coalition air raid on a detention facility in Houthi-controlled Saada last month “was the worst civilian casualty incident in three years”, as he pointed at an “alarming” increase in air raids in Yemen, including on residential areas in Sanaa and the port area of Hodeidah.

Meanwhile, recent attacks by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a fellow coalition member, “indicate how this conflict risks spiralling out of control unless serious efforts are urgently made by the Yemeni parties, the region and the international community to end the conflict”, Grundberg warned.

More than 650 civilians were killed or injured in January by air raids, shelling, small arms fire and other violence, “by far the highest toll in at least three years”, according to UN figures.

The UN has long warned that the war in Yemen has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but Griffiths cautioned that “aid agencies are quickly running out of money, forcing them to slash life-saving programmes”.

According to the UN humanitarian office, the 2021 humanitarian plan for Yemen received $2.27bn of its $3.85bn requirement, the lowest funding level since 2015. The 2022 plan has not been released.

The UN’s World Food Programme was forced to reduced food rations for eight million people in December and starting in March “those eight million people may get no food at all – or just a reduced ration,” Griffiths said.

Meanwhile, the UN may also have to cancel most humanitarian flights in Yemen next month, it said.

Funding shortages could also deprive 3.6 million people of safe drinking water and end programmes to combat gender-based violence and promote reproductive health.

Griffiths called the scale of the current funding gaps in Yemen “unprecedented”, saying the UN has never before contemplated not giving millions of hungry people food or suspending humanitarian flights.

Sweden and Switzerland are scheduled to co-host a high-level pledging event for Yemen with the United Nations on March 16.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies