The United Nations voiced disappointment after a pledging conference raised less than a third of the money it said was needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in war-torn Yemen.
The UN was seeking $4.27bn to help 17.3 million people – but raised only $1.3bn at Wednesday’s conference in Geneva, with some major hoped-for donors not pledging any funds.
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The UN considers war-torn Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that it must not be overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis.
Nonetheless, the money raised fell far short of what was needed, leaving organisers considering a second conference later this year.
“We heard 36 donors pledge nearly $1.3bn for the humanitarian response,” the UN’s humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in closing the conference in Geneva.
“But let us be under no illusions: We hoped for more. And it is a disappointment that we weren’t able, as yet, to get pledges from some we thought we might hear from.”
“We will be working hard to make sure that … we do stand in solidarity with the people of Yemen.”
Out of 31.9 million people in Yemen, 23.4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 12.9 million are in acute need, the UN has said.
‘Catastrophe’ risk: UN chief
Yemen has been racked by a devastating war since 2014, pitting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels against the internationally recognised government, supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly and indirectly in the war, and millions have been displaced.
“Yemen may have receded from the headlines, but the human suffering has not relented,” Guterres said, opening the conference. “A funding crunch risks catastrophe.”
Guterres said the country was in ruins and the economy in despair, while millions were now facing extreme hunger, and two in three Yemenis were living in extreme poverty.
“As a matter of moral responsibility, of human decency and compassion, of international solidarity, and of life and death – we must support the people of Yemen now,” said Guterres.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is likely to have a negative effect on Yemen, given that the country depends almost entirely on food imports, with nearly a third of its wheat supplies coming from Ukraine.
A prolonged conflict in Ukraine is therefore likely to make it harder for Yemenis to meet their basic needs, as food prices, especially the cost of grain, are expected to increase.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would contribute nearly $585m more to Yemen.
“We’re faced with a multiplicity of challenges around the world and it’s particularly difficult when the spotlight has moved elsewhere,” he said.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates, both of which are heavily involved militarily in the war in Yemen, pledged any money at this year’s conference, despite being significant contributors at past funding drives.
Last year’s conference raised only about $1.7bn for Yemen out of $3.85bn that the UN had sought. However, the overall amount reached more than $2.3bn by the end of the year, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The UN’s World Food Programme said the number of people needing food assistance had increased by 1.2 million during the past year to 17.4 million – and is forecast to reach 19 million people in the second half of 2022.
“It’s absolutely devastating, and now we’re out of money,” WFP executive director David Beasley told the conference. “We need a billion dollars for the next six months and we have just a little over 10 percent of that.”
The number of people “knocking on famine’s door” will rise from more than five million to more than seven million, he said.
“Don’t make us make decisions between taking food from the children in Ukraine to the children in Yemen,” he pleaded.
The conference was co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden.
Manuel Bessler, Switzerland’s humanitarian aid chief, said the total raised “does not match the tremendous needs we have on the ground”.
“We are very curious to hear from donors from the Gulf, where they’re standing and what their intention is to address this funding crisis,” he added.
Many speakers at the conference said progress could only be made if there was peace.
Houthis welcome talks
Meanwhile, the Houthi movement said on Wednesday it would welcome talks with the Saudi-led coalition if the venue is a neutral country, including some Gulf states, and that the priority is lifting “arbitrary” restrictions on Yemeni ports and Sanaa airport.
The Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plans to invite Yemeni parties, including the Houthis, for consultations in Riyadh this month, two Gulf officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
“It is neither logical, nor fair that the host of the talks is also the sponsor of war and blockade,” the Iran-aligned movement said in a statement on its official news agency.
GCC members Oman, where some Houthi officials are based, and Kuwait, which hosted previous peace talks in 2015, might be considered more neutral ground for any consultations.
The UN and US, trying to engineer a truce, have pressed Riyadh to lift sea and air restrictions on Houthi-held areas to alleviate a dire humanitarian crisis. The coalition has said the blockade aims to prevent arms smuggling.