The UN hopes to raise $ 3.85 billion Monday at a donor conference to prevent a large-scale famine in Yemen, a country devastated by war and where “childhood is now hell.”
More than 100 governments and individual donors are participating in a virtual meeting (co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland) as violence on the ground has recently intensified in Marib, in the north of the very poor country on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Houthi rebels resumed an offensive in early February to wrest this last government stronghold in the north, while stepping up attacks on neighboring Saudi territory.
The conflict, more than six years old, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions more to the brink of famine: it is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world according to the UN.
In the context of a pandemic, the fall in aid funding has made the situation worse. The UN, which only collected half of the aid needed last year, called on Monday for “immediate funding.”
“For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable. The period of childhood is now hell. This war is wiping out a whole generation of Yemenis, ”said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“Now is not the time to turn away from Yemen,” the senior diplomat said in a statement.
The UN is counting in particular on the rich Gulf countries surrounding Yemen to collect the 3.85 billion dollars (about 3.18 billion euros), after having lacked 1.5 billion dollars of the 3.4 billion needed last year.
The United Arab Emirates on Friday pledged $ 230 million.
According to the latest United Nations figures, more than 16 million Yemenis, or about half of the population of 29 million, will face hunger this year.
Nearly 50,000 of them “are already starving in conditions close to starvation” and 400,000 children under five could die of acute malnutrition “without emergency treatment”.
In September 2020, the UN revealed that essential aid had been cut to 300 health centers in Yemen due to lack of funding, and that more than a third of its major humanitarian programs in the country had either been cut. , or completely interrupted.
Twelve aid organizations, including Save the Children, Oxfam and Action Against Hunger, have warned of a “disaster” if funding shortfalls.
“With five million people on the brink of famine and more than two-thirds of the country’s population in need of humanitarian assistance or protection, the situation could not be more urgent,” they said in a joint statement.
The World Food Program, Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, announced on Sunday that it was itself “facing a significant lack of funding”.
The conference comes at a time when the United States seeks to rekindle political dialogue to resolve the conflict. Washington has removed the Houthi rebels from the list of “terrorist organizations” and has stopped supporting the military intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in the country since 2015.
The Houthis have nevertheless stepped up their operations against government forces and Saudi Arabia, as Saudi air force bombs rebel positions in northern Yemen, in order to counter their latest offensive.
The UN has warned of a potential humanitarian disaster if the bloody fighting for Marib continues, recalling that they have already put “millions of civilians in danger”. The region, until then relatively untouched by conflict, is home to many displaced people, hundreds of whom have recently had to flee.
“We are at a crossroads,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said, according to the statement.
“We can choose the path of peace or let the Yemenis sink into the worst famine the world has seen in decades.”