U.N. raises $1.1 billion for Yemen crisis; officials call for an end to the war

Aya, 2 years old, in Yemen's Hodeidah main hospital being checked for acute malnutrition. (Credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa)

The U.N. hosted a humanitarian pep rally in Geneva today, and raised $1.1 billion for Yemen.

“Yemen today is experiencing a tragedy of immense proportions. Two years of conflict have devastated the lives of ordinary Yemenis,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the event. “We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now, to save lives.”

Nearly 19 million people in Yemen need assistance right now. Yet, only 15 percent of the $2.1 billion needed is available. Guterres led the chorus of appeals for donor countries to do more and provide more funds for the crisis – and to stop the civil war fueling the crisis.

Countries met today in the hopes of at least alleviating the financial pressure. The U.S. pledged an additional $94 million, raising its total contribution to $526 million for the fiscal year. It was part of the more than $1 billion in pledges, leading Guterres to declare the event a success.

A potential famine adds to the urgency of the event. Some 14 million people are food insecure, of whom millions will experience famine if nothing improves. Money to fund a global humanitarian response is essential. More important is ending the civil war.

“In a globalized world, it should be unthinkable to talk about famine,” Arif Husain, chief economist for the World Food Program, told Humanosphere. “Especially since we know how to avert them. This is something we can do when we have political commitment, humanitarian access and adequate financial resources. We have done it in the past. It is unthinkable that we let this happen.”

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The crisis does not have any of the three things Husain said are needed. Attempts to reach a diplomatic solution to the fighting between rebel and government forces have failed. As a result, ongoing fighting makes it hard to reach people in all parts of the country. Finally, the severe lack of funding limits what is already a restricted humanitarian response.

U.N. coordinated appeals are frequently underfunded. That reality led some to warn that the conference should not be viewed as a solution to the crisis.

“Too often, we see high profile humanitarian appeal conferences fall short. It is imperative that governments see their pledges as binding and exercise peer pressure to hold each other accountable,” Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, said in a statement. “Rather than costly military intervention, there should be a focus on providing much-needed humanitarian assistance and finding lasting peace.”

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More than 10,000 people have died since rebels forced President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the capital. Fighting accelerated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia joined to support the government. The U.S., France and U.K. all back the Saudis who are accused of indiscriminately killing civilians.

Fighting has cut off basic services, like access to water, food and health care. The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded 325 attacks on health facilities, schools, markets, roads and other infrastructure since the fighting intensified two years ago. Nearly 70 percent of essential medicines are no longer available. The problems contributed to a cholera outbreak in 2016 and the worsening hunger crisis, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said today.

It is why the common refrain at the event calling for more funding was followed by the caveat that ending the war is essential.

“We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations and peace,” U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said at the conference. “We hope that by addressing people’s most urgent needs now, we will also help to create the space that is needed for Yemenis and parties to the conflict to come together and put an end to this terrible war.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.