UN seeks over $5b for Yemen to avert mass starvation as funding dwindles

A woman cooks at a makeshift camp for internally displaced people in Aden, Yemen, on March 15, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI/GENEVA (REUTERS) - The United Nations seeks to raise nearly US$4.3 billion (S$5.85 billion) at a pledging event on Wednesday (March 16) for war-torn Yemen, where the humanitarian drive has seen funding dry up even before global attention turned to the conflict in Ukraine.

More than 17 million people in Yemen need food assistance, and this could rise to 19 million in the second half of the year, UN bodies said. By December, those experiencing emergency levels of hunger could reach 7.3 million.

"While Ukraine understandably and rightly requires our urgent attention and focus right now, we cannot drop the ball on other crises," said Swedish foreign ministry official Carl Skau.

The hope is for generous pledges but the target for the one-day event is not the full US$4.27 billion, said Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Jens Laerke, adding that fund raising would continue.

Aid agencies have already been forced to cut back or stop food, health and other vital assistance in Yemen where the economy and basic services have collapsed in a seven-year war.

Food prices, which doubled last year due to a blockade imposed by a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Houthis, are set to rise further since a third of the country's wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine, said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

Across Yemen, 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished.

In Aden's Keraa camp, Mr Abdo Yehya has seen no aid this year.

"We survive with the help of our son who collects empty plastic bottles and metal cans and sells them, and... the kindness of people," he said. "We are exhausted."

The UN received just over half the US$3.4 billion needed in 2020 while last year, donors gave US$2.3 billion.

The World Food Programme warned on Monday that without substantial new funding, mass starvation and famine would follow.

Donor budgets were strained by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Afghanistan crisis and now Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There are also concerns over allegations of Houthi interference in aid flows.

The Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene months later.

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