GENEVA: International donors have pledged $1.1 billion for war-torn Yemen, the U.N. secretary-general said Tuesday, appealing to the fighting sides to grant access to humanitarians and revive diplomatic efforts to end a conflict that has killed over 10,000 civilians. Antonio Guterres ended a daylong Yemen aid conference by hailing the “clear generosity and solidarity” of governments and civil society after two years of intensified conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The conference, co-sponsored by the United Nations, Switzerland and Sweden, raised pledges for over half of the $2.1 billion sought by the U.N. this year in an appeal that was only 15 percent funded previously.
After years of shortfall in funding for Yemen, Guterres praised a “very encouraging signal” that the target could be met this year. He said the pledges must now be “translated into effective support” for Yemenis.
“We basically need now three things: Access, access, access,” for humanitarian actors to reach all Yemenis in need, he said.
The war has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, obliterated the health system, led to human rights violations and impeded imports of crucial food, resources and medicines.
Aid groups want improved access to civilians, a halt to deadly airstrikes by an Arab, U.S.-supported coalition that has been fighting Houthi rebels.
U.N. officials say the world’s largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen, where 17 million people are classified as food insecure, with 7 million of those facing critical shortages.
The war pits the coalition of mostly Sunni Arab states against Iran-backed rebels and allied army units loyal to a former president.
Unlike the Syria war, Yemen’s conflict has not produced a flood of refugees – making it a relatively contained crisis that has made fewer international headlines. Violence and administrative blockages have impeded the flow of aid and resources into the country. Epitomizing the daily struggle for Yemenis, dozens of hospital patients in the contested city of Taiz protested Tuesday against alleged seizures of medical supplies by rebels who control the area, said Fahmi al-Hamami, a physician at the Thawra Hospital.
U.N. officials did not immediately provide a full breakdown of the pledges – or specify how much was new. The United States said it was committing nearly $94 million in additional assistance, bringing its total to $526 million since the 2016 fiscal year.
Guterres and many diplomats acknowledged aid was only a stopgap measure, insisting that ultimately Yemen’s suffering will only ease with a political solution that ends the war.
“On average, a child under the age of 5 dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes,” Guterres said at the conference opening. “This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference, and all of those deaths could have been prevented.”
The United Nations’ humanitarian aid coordination agency, OCHA, says some 18.8 million people need humanitarian or protection assistance in Yemen. By contrast, the U.N. refugee agency says war-depleted Syria has some 13.5 million people in need.
“In simple terms, the situation in Yemen is catastrophic,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s director for the Mideast and North Africa, told the Associated Press. “There is no single country in the world where, today, children are more suffering than in Yemen.”
Speaking in Beirut, Cappelaere said UNICEF and other aid groups have called on all parties to keep the port and other entry points, such as the Sanaa airport, open on a daily basis to bring in much-needed supplies.
Fewer than 45 percent of health facilities are now fully functioning, and the flow of “essential medicines” has fallen by nearly 70 percent, said World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan.
“Health needs go well beyond the prevention of outbreaks,” she said in a statement. “Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer are killing more people than bullets and bombs.”
Robert Mardini, Middle East director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said needs go beyond physical and financial aid.
“There needs to be clear humanitarian leadership. A clear humanitarian voice saying ‘enough is enough. End the suffering,’” he told conference attendees.