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UN calls for billions in Yemen aid

March 16, 2022

The UN says the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen risks being forgotten as the world focuses on the war in Ukraine. And that conflict is also likely to directly impact Yemen's already stricken food supply, experts say.

Destroyed car amid rubble following Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa
The Yemen conflict continues to devastate the countryImage: Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

A virtual pledging conference for Yemen on Wednesday is facing a United Nations (UN) appeal for $4.27 billion (€3.9 billion) to alleviate what the world body describes as the globe's worst humanitarian crisis.

The conference comes as UN bodies voice fears not only that the global attention on Ukraine amid a Russian invasion could worsen the already existing shortfalls in funding, but that the war in Europe could aggravate Yemen's hunger crisis.

Baking bread during Yemen's humanitarian crisis


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Why is Yemen in crisis?

Yemen has been in the grip of war since 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, and swathes of territory in the country's north.

The conflict became more intense after a Saudi-led US-backed coalition intervened in a bid to defeat the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government.

The war has since then developed into a regional proxy war, with Saudi Arabia seeking to stem what it sees as a bid by its archrival, Iran, to gain a foothold in the region. More than 150,000 people have been killed, including more than 14,500 civilians.

Millions are also suffering from shortages of food and medical care amid the conflict, while 4.3 million have been driven from their homes, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The World Food Programme warned on Monday that mass starvation and famine could result if substantial new financial assistance is not given.

OCHA says 19 million people are expected to face acute food insecurity by the second half of the year. Of these, 161,000 are likely to experience famine, it said.

Yemen: Aid organizations running out of money

The war in Yemen grinds on. Many locals are alive thanks to external aid. But now there is a danger that those organizations too will run out of money. A donor conference takes place this week to try to remedy that.

Image: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Shortage of aid

The humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen is getting worse again. According to the United Nations' World Food Program (WFP), 13 million people there are in danger of starvation. This is due to the ongoing civil war in Yemen and a shortage of humanitarian aid.

Image: Khaled Ziad/AFP/Getty Images

High dependency

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more people are going hungry. Yemen is one of the most deprived countries, with more than 40% of the population dependent on WFP deliveries.

Image: Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

Running out of money

"We’re feeding 13 million people out of a nation of 30 million people and we are running out of money," David Beasley, the head of the WFP, told the Associated Press recently. "So, what am I gonna do for the children in Yemen? Steal it from the children in Ethiopia, or Afghanistan, or Nigeria or in Syria? That’s not right," he said.

Image: Giles Clarke/UNOCHA/picture alliance

Incomplete aid packages

At the moment only those who could die of starvation are actually receiving their full ration, said Corinne Fleischer, director of the WFP's program for the Middle East and North Africa. That equals about five million people. And the donations so far only cover 18% of the almost $2 billion (€1.8 billion) that the WFP needs for its work in Yemen.

Image: Mohammed Mohammed/XinHua/dpa/picture alliance

Ukraine war worsens hunger

The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens to makes things even worse here because the WFP was sourcing around half of its wheat from Ukraine. Even before the war began, prices had risen so much that wheat had to be rationed. The World Bank has also suggested that the Ukraine war will bring about worse famine.

Image: AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP/Getty Images

Bloody civil war

A bloody civil war, in which external states have got involved, has been ongoing in Yemen for the past seven years. Since 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition has fought the Iran-supported Houthi rebels, who now control most of the country. This includes the capital, Sanaa.

Image: imago images/Xinhua

Chaos in Aden

The southern city of Aden has been controlled by separatists since 2020 and has been the base of the internationally recognized government, headed by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, since the Houthis pushed it out of Sanaa. Terrorist groups are active in Aden — this picture shows the aftermath of an attack that killed eight in 2021.

Image: Wael Qubady/AP Photo/picture alliance

No shelter

The battle for the oil-rich city of Marib was particularly harsh. The city is seen as strategically important and was the last bastion of the officially recognized government in the north. The fighting just goes on here, with the Saudis continually bombing the area. Civilians are forced to keep moving their displaced persons camps because the frontlines keep shifting.

Image: AFP /Getty Images

Hospitals full up

Health care in Yemen is even worse than it was before. The ongoing war as well as the COVID-19 pandemic have only made things more dire in the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula.

Image: Abdulnasser Alseddik/AA/picture alliance

Schools bombed

In a 2021 report, UNICEF said that education has been one of the Yemen war's biggest casualties. More than 2 million school-age girls and boys are not attending classes. That is twice as many children as before the war started. Many schools have been bombed.

Image: Mohammed Al-Wafi /AA/picture alliance

Spiral of misery

Power, clean water, petrol — there's always something missing in Yemen. The queues at petrol stations just keep getting longer. Without more funding for aid, this downward spiral of misery will only continue.

Image: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images
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What impact could the Ukraine conflict have on Yemen?

Apart from drawing attention away from the crisis in Yemen, the conflict in Ukraine threatens to worsen the humanitarian situation in the Arab nation, with 22% of the country's wheat coming from Ukraine and Russia.

"The Ukrainian crisis could also dramatically impact Yemenis' access to food," said Erin Hutchinson, Yemen director at the Norwegian Refugee Council. "We hope that Yemenis will find the same level of support and solidarity as we've seen with the people of Ukraine."

The UN hopes the conference, hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, will raise the $4.27 billion to enable aid to 17.3 million people from the 23.4 million who need assistance.

Last year's conference raised only around $1.7 billion of the $3.85 billion the UN had sought, with global economies hit hard at the time by the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout.

tj/sms (AP, Reuters)

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