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S. Arabia seeks to raise $2.3b in Yemen donor conference

By AFP - Jun 02,2020 - Last updated at Jun 02,2020

A Yemeni policeman wearing a protective face mask stands at a street market in Yemen's third city of Taez, on Monday, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis (AFP photo)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia sought to raise $2.3 billion from an emergency donor conference on Tuesday to support Yemen — ravaged by a war in which the kingdom is a key actor, and a coronavirus outbreak — as the UN chief warned aid workers face a "race against time".

The UN-backed virtual conference, hosted by Saudi Arabia in the sixth year of its military intervention in Yemen, comes as aid groups warn the virus could wreak havoc after years of conflict and amid crippling funding shortages.

"We are in a race against time," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. "Just half of Yemen's health facilities are operational. There are shortages of testing devices, oxygen, ambulances and basic protective equipment.

"Tackling COVID-19 on top of the existing humanitarian emergency requires urgent action."

Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated four million people displaced by war and tens of thousands afflicted by malnutrition and disease.

Saudi authorities said a total of $2.3 billion was being sought to cover emergency requirements in Yemen including medical aid, food and shelter assistance.

Britain stepped in Tuesday with a new aid package for Yemen worth £160 million ($200 million).

“This targeted UK aid package will mean the difference between life and death for thousands of Yemenis who now also face the threat of coronavirus,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

Aside from Guterres, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan as well as Mark Lowcock, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, took part in the aid conference.

Lowcock has flagged a funding requirement of $2.4 billion for Yemen by the end of the year, including $180 million to combat the pandemic.

Guterres said in the de facto capital Aden, reports indicated the mortality rates from the virus were “among the highest in the world”.

As the coronavirus spreads, some 5.5 million people risk losing access to food and clean water in Yemen this year, said a survey by 24 international aid groups including Save the Children.

“The largest humanitarian crisis in the world is now compounded by an unprecedented pandemic,” a statement said.


‘Running out of time’ 


Saudi Arabia, which leads a military intervention against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, counts itself as a top donor to Yemen, having contributed billions of dollars in aid.

The UN’s Jens Laerke has warned that aid agencies are heading towards a “fiscal cliff” due to a lack of funding that threatens to shut down more than 30 key UN programmes in the coming weeks.

“We are urging the donors to pledge generously,” said Laerke, a spokesman with the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA.

“Those who have given an indication of pledges [are urged] to actually pay early because the operation in Yemen is severely, severely underfunded.”

Top officials from other UN agencies in Yemen have also appealed for urgent international support.

“We are increasingly alarmed about the situation in Yemen,” officials from UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation said in a joint statement.

“We are running out of time.”


Virus ‘catastrophe’ warning 


International medical charity Doctors Without Borders has warned that Yemen faces a “catastrophe” from the pandemic.

The UN says COVID-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, while the Yemeni government has officially recorded only a few hundred cases.

“COVID-19 has created new needs there, but [it] is just the latest challenge in an already deteriorating situation,” said Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.

“Yemen needs a lot of help, not least because of its weak health system.”

The conflict between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition intervened against the rebels after they overran much of the country.

Further muddying the waters are tensions between two anti-Houthi allies — the Yemeni government and southern separatists, which declared self-rule in southern Yemen on April 26.

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