June 2, 2020 / 6:23 PM / a month ago

Donors promise Yemen $1.35 billion, falling short of U.N. target to save aid operations

DUBAI (Reuters) - International donors raised $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen on Tuesday but the amount fell short of the United Nations’ target of $2.4 billion needed to save the world’s biggest aid operation from severe cutbacks.

Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia wears a protective mask (C), following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, during a virtual conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 2, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS

The conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi group has left 80% of Yemen’s population reliant on aid. The country now faces the spread of the novel coronavirus among an acutely malnourished people.

Saudi Arabia, leader of the coalition fighting the Houthis since 2015 in a stalemated war, hosted a virtual U.N. conference to help counter funding shortages for aid operations in Yemen.

In total, donors pledged $1.35 billion to help aid agencies, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the conference.

Saudi Arabia has already pledged $500 million, including $25 million to help fight the coronavirus outbreak, Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jabir told Reuters.

Saudi has faced criticism from international rights groups for its condcut in the war, particularly a campaign of air strikes that has led to many civilian deaths and destroyed infrastructure.

Britain - which sells weapons to coalition members - and Germany announced respectively $201 million and $140 million. They called on the warring parties to immediately end the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians.

The United States, which also backs the coalition, said last month it would extend $225 million in emergency aid for food.

Lowcock, asked about Saudi Arabia co-hosting the event, said Riyadh was a large donor and the United Nations would continue to call out warring parties on actions “they should not be doing”.

“Saudi Arabia keeps trying to whitewash its coalition’s role in the deepening humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, but cohosting the funding event won’t fool anyone,” Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Lise Grande, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, told Reuters before the conference the operation would face “catastrophic cutbacks” if the donations fell short of $1.6 billion.

“We won’t be able to provide the food people need to survive, or the health care they need or the water or sanitation or the nutrition support which helps to keep 2 million malnourished children from dying,” she said.

Some $180 million of required funding is needed to combat coronavirus in a country with shattered health systems and inadequate testing capabilities.

Yemen has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene a few months later.

Donors had cut funding to Houthi-held areas over concerns the group is hindering aid delivery, a charge it denies.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Michelle Nichols and Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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