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UNICEF report highlights effect of aid crisis on millions of children in Yemen

03 July 2020


A swarm of locusts arrive at a cultivation area in Dhamar province, Yemen, last month

A swarm of locusts arrive at a cultivation area in Dhamar province, Yemen, last month

HUGE shortfalls in humanitarian aid funding could push millions of children in Yemen to the “brink of starvation”, a UNICEF report, Yemen Five Years On: Children, conflict and Covid-19, has said.

“The already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably,” the report says. An additional 30,000 young people could develop “life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next six months” as the spread of Covid-19 places more pressure on a health system that is “teetering closer to collapse”. About 9.6 million children have poor access to water and sanitation — a factor that is “stoking the spread of Covid-19” (News, 29 May).

The extent of the funding crisis was exposed at an international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Yemen, held in Saudi Arabia last month. Barely half of the targeted £2 billion was pledged. The largest pledge came from the Saudi hosts (followed by the UK, the United States, and Germany), but this was less than half the amount that the Saudi kingdom promised last year, reflecting the negative economic impact of low oil prices and Covid-19, along with loss of income from cancelled pilgrimages.

Saudi Arabia also spends billions of dollars each year financing its war in Yemen, aimed at defeating Houthi rebels, which began in 2016. The war is the cause of much of the suffering among civilians trapped in the conflict.

For humanitarian aid agencies, the fall-off in funding has come at a bad time. A spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the humanitarian situation in Yemen “could spin out of control as Covid-19 threatens a population already weakened by years of conflict. Millions of Yemenis are hanging by a thread, and are acutely vulnerable to shocks.”

The WFP faces a “huge logistical operation to get assistance to nearly half of the population”, amid an ongoing conflict that creates access challenges. It then has to “balance available resources with the unprecedented level of need. Now a global pandemic threatens the global supply chain that underpins the humanitarian response.”

World Vision’s Yemen response director, Julian Srodecki, said on Monday that funding gaps and cuts were “already posing a significant challenge to maintaining the humanitarian response for millions. The aid response in Yemen is seriously underfunded, with a $1-billion [£0.8-billion] shortfall for 2020.”

Mr Srodecki said that World Vision was concerned about the impact on Yemeni children, “as the situation will get worse and many life-saving programmes will be forced to close or scale down. We are worried about how millions of people will cope with the new normal of rising needs against the background of decreasing funding.”

The Pope, after saying the Angelus last Sunday, invited worshippers to “pray for the people of Yemen, especially for children who are suffering due to the serious humanitarian crisis”.

The global Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, which means that the resulting economic crisis could be long; funding shortfalls will affect all humanitarian emergencies, not just the one in Yemen. “Large numbers of people are not getting the support they require,” Christian Aid’s head of humanitarian division, Nick Guttmann, said on Monday. “It’s going to be horrendous: we’re facing a hunger pandemic on the back of a Covid-19 pandemic.”

With a fall in donations, Christian Aid will redouble local and international funding efforts and “focus on accountability to the affected communities, prioritising what they need and want as the focus of our response”. Mr Guttmann is urging the Church and the public to do their bit to help. “We’ve been hit by the pandemic here in the UK, but we’re much better equipped than many other places to deal with it. We’re asking people to think what they can do — especially churches — to support the crises around the world, many of which have fallen out of the news.”

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