The international response to Monday’s High-Level Pledging Event on Yemen has been described as “disappointing” by the UN chief, announcing that pledges totalled less than last year’s humanitarian response, and a billion dollars less than the figure raised in 2019.
Despite that, millions of Yemenis desperately need more aid to survive, with some $1.7 billion pledged by the end of the morning – falling short of the appeal when the conference began, for $3.85 billion.
“Cutting aid is a death sentence”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said after the event concluded. “The best that can be said about today is that it represents a down payment”.
Women and children make up 73% of displaced people in Yemen.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) March 1, 2021
Their needs are desperate, urgent, and increasing by the day.
Cash will help them buy food, medicine and pay rent to keep a roof above their head. https://t.co/dJI9oPPpWR #YemenCantWait pic.twitter.com/ZDG2PEsbpb
Thanking those who did pledge generously, he urged others to reconsider what they can do to “help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades”.
“In the end, the only path to peace is through an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures, followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under United Nations auspices, and supported by the international community. There is no other solution”, Mr. Guterres spelled out.
“The United Nations will continue to stand in solidarity with the starving people of Yemen”.
Famine ‘bearing down’
Speaking earlier at the conference to help lift the spectre of starvation looming over 16 million people, the UN chief warned, “famine is bearing down on Yemen”, adding that it’s “impossible to overstate the severity of the suffering”.
He painted a grim picture of more than 20 million Yemenis in desperate need of assistance and protection – especially women and children.
Around two-thirds are suffering food shortages, healthcare or other lifesaving support, while some four million have been forced from their homes, with hundreds of thousands of others under threat.
Around 50,000 are already starving in famine-like conditions, with some 16 million at risk of hunger this year – with the most acute cases in conflict-affected areas.
“The risk of large-scale famine has never been more acute”, spelled out the UN chief. “The race is on, if we want to prevent hunger and starvation from taking millions of lives”.
The Secretary-General said that last year, the conflict killed or injured more than 2,000 civilians, devastated the economy and crushed public services.
And noting that barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are fully functional, he pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as “one more deadly threat in a country facing such severe health challenges”.
“For most people, life in Yemen is now unbearable”.
‘Special kind of hell’
Against the backdrop that children are starving and nearly half of those under age five are facing acute malnutrition – suffering wasting, depression and exhaustion – Mr. Guterres called childhood in Yemen “a special kind of hell”.
He warned that 400,000 children face severe acute malnutrition and could die without urgent treatment and noted starving children are even more vulnerable to preventable diseases like cholera, diphtheria and measles.
Sick and injured children are turned away by overwhelmed health facilities that lack the drugs or equipment to treat them.
“Every ten minutes, a child dies a needless death from diseases”, he lamented. “And every day, Yemeni children are killed or maimed in the conflict”.
And long after the guns fall silent, they will continue to pay a high price with many never fulfilling their physical and mental potential.
“This war is swallowing up a whole generation of Yemenis”, he said. “It has to stop”.
A plea for peace
Stressing that “there is no military solution”, the UN chief upheld that all actions must be driven by a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
He detailed that an immediate, nationwide ceasefire and a set of confidence-building measures, followed by an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process under UN auspices, supported by the international community was “the only path to peace”.
“The people of Yemen have articulated what they want: lifesaving support from the world; peaceful political participation; accountable governance; equal citizenship and economic justice”, he said.
Flagging that this was the fifth high-level humanitarian pledging event for Yemen, he maintained “the bitter truth” that there would be a sixth one next year, “unless the war ends”.
“We must create and seize every opportunity to save lives, stave off a mass famine, and forge a path to peace”, said the Secretary-General.
Situation never worse
Last year’s humanitarian funding fell to half of what was needed and half of what was received the year before. The country’s currency has collapsed and overseas remittances dried up with the pandemic, he said, and humanitarian organizations have reduced or closed their programmes, creating a humanitarian situation that “has never been worse”.
“The impact has been brutal”, he stated, adding that any reduction in aid is “a death sentence for entire families”.
Time ‘not on our side’
Moderating the event, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that more money for Yemen’s aid operation was “the fastest, most efficient way to prevent a famine” and would also “help create the conditions for lasting peace”.
UN Resident Coordinator David Gressly said that if the world chooses not to help today “or not help enough”, the misery will continue to grow.
“Time is not on our side” to avoid a likely unprecedented famine he said, urging everyone to “take the current opportunity and run with it”.
Due to severe funding shortages and possible reproductive health facility closures – compounded by rising risks posed by COVID-19 and looming famine – the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) emphasized that more than 100,000 could die from pregnancy and childbirth complications.
“If lifesaving reproductive health and protection services stop, it will be catastrophic for women and girls in Yemen, placing them at even greater risk”, said Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “Funding is urgently needed to save lives and to keep facilities open to protect the health, safety and dignity of women and adolescent girls”.
World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley highlighted that a lack of funding will have a catastrophic impact on Yemen’s children, and called on partners to step up and help prevent this silent emergency.
The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said that hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children could die without urgent treatment, pushing for “urgent action to reverse this catastrophe”.