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Groups: Yemen aid shortfall means more hunger, less care

March 2, 2021 GMT

CAIRO (AP) — Aid organizations working in Yemen said Tuesday their programs will be severely cut after a U.N. appeal for donations to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian disaster fell well short of its goal.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had appealed for $3.85 billion this year to address the impoverished Arab country’s dire needs. But despite repeated warnings that a large-scale famine is looming, the amount raised Monday was about $1.7 billion.

Yemen has been caught in a grinding war since 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels descended from their northern enclave and took over Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized president to flee. In the spring of 2015, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition began a destructive air campaign to dislodge the Houthis while imposing a land, sea and air embargo on Yemen.

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The outcome of the appeal for aid, which was less than the U.N. received last year, was no surprise, given the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating consequences for economies around the globe, and corruption allegations in Yemen aid operations.

Aid workers had painted a grim picture for Yemen in 2021, since humanitarian programs were scaled down last year amid the pandemic, affecting the most vulnerable people in the country.

In 2020, about 9 million people received half of the amount of food assistance they received in 2019, said Anna Pantelia, a spokeswoman for Save the Children charity.

Olivia Headon, a spokeswoman for the U.N. migration agency in Yemen, said the shortfall would translate into sick people without health care, children continuing to become malnourished and millions going without enough to eat for prolonged periods.

“Since we were so drastically underfunded (since 2019), we already know what affect this will have on our humanitarian programming,” she said.

The International Organization for Migration’s program in Yemen was roughly only 50% funded last year, causing the agency to cut support to health care facilities serving large numbers of displaced people.

David Miliband, head the International Rescue Committee, said lack of funding would prevent aid agencies from delivering life-saving assistance at scale.

“People will die,” he said. “Funds are desperately needed to save lives as the war continues to take its toll on the economy, civilian infrastructure and availability of basic services.”

Sultana Begum, advocacy manager with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Yemen, said the number of people receiving aid in Yemen has already dwindled in recent months to just over 10 million every month, from at least 14 million in previous years.

“The shortfall in the humanitarian aid will only have more pain,” she said.

Following the conference, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “cutting aid is a death sentence.” He called for countries to reconsider their positions and help “stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”

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Ahead of Monday’s conference, the U.N. warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with some half a million already living in famine-like conditions.

Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquey, has called for an end to the war as people’s resources and resilience are further depleted. He said the humanitarian assistance is vital to save lives, “but what Yemenis really need is peace and economic stability.”

The Yemen conflict has killed some 130,000 people, spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Half of Yemen’s health care facilities are shuttered or destroyed, and 4 million Yemenis have been driven from their homes. The pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.

Headon, of the IOM, said they have faced challenges getting access to communities in need, particularly in the northern provinces. It’s “extremely challenging,” she said.

Agencies depend on the Houthis, who rule the capital and much of the country’s north, to deliver aid and pay salaries to Houthis to do so. The rebels have been implicated in stealing aid and using aid access to extort concessions and money.