SANA’A (Dispatches) – War-torn Yemen is once again on the brink of famine as donor funds that averted catastrophe just 18 months ago have dried up, the country’s UN humanitarian coordinator told AFP.
With much of the country dependent on aid, a coronavirus pandemic raging unchecked, and countless children already facing starvation, Lise Grande said that millions of vulnerable families could quickly move from "being able to hold on to being in free fall.”
The United Nations raised only around half the required $2.41 billion in aid for Yemen at a June donor conference.
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 the Saudi-led war and 80 percent of the country’s 29 million people dependent on aid for their survival.
Grande said in an interview from Sana’a that critical programs providing sanitation, healthcare and food were already closing down because of a lack of cash, just as the economic situation is looking "scarily similar” to the darkest days of the crisis.
A critical fuel shortage is now threatening the operation of the electricity grid, water supply, and key infrastructure like hospitals.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to subdue an uprising that toppled a regime friendly to Riyadh.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.
More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed during the war by the Saudi-led coalition, which is supported militarily by the UK, the U.S. and other Western countries.
Grande said that only nine of the 31 donors had actually provided the funds -- a pattern that the UN has sounded alarm over before, and which will worsen as the world sinks into a coronavirus-induced recession.
"It’s very clear that the COVID pandemic has put pressure on assistance budgets all over the world … They’re just not going to be able to do what they’ve done previously. And the impact of that is going to be very significant, very severe,” she said.
Yemen has so far officially recorded some 1,300 cases of the disease, with 359 fatalities, but testing is scant, most clinics are ill-equipped to determine causes of death and there are ominous signs that the real toll is much higher.
Modeling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates there could have been over one million coronavirus infections by last month, and that 85,000 people could die in a worst-case scenario.
But as the country’s needs escalate, the ability to meet them has diminished.