Yemen: $1.1 billion pledged at humanitarian conference to save war-torn Arab country

The UN and top government officials from Switzerland and Sweden co-hosted the pledging conference with the aim of bridging a funding gap in the 2017 humanitarian appeal of $2.1 billion.

Nearly $1.1 billion was raised at a pledging event in Geneva to aid what the United Nations chief calls “the world’s largest hunger crisis” in Yemen, where millions are in need of emergency support.

“We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now, to save lives,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.

Guterres and top government officials from Switzerland and Sweden co-hosted the pledging conference in the Swiss city. The aim was to bridge a funding gap in the 2017 humanitarian appeal of $2.1 billion. Prior to the conference, only about 15 percent had been met.

“Some 17 million are food-insecure, making this the world’s largest hunger crisis,” Guterres said, highlighting a situation worsened by import restrictions and the destruction of port facilities.

Calling particular attention to children at risk in Yemen, Guterres said that on average, one child under the age of five dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes in Yemen.

“This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference – and all those deaths could have been prevented,” he stated.

Nearly half a million children are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death if they do not receive urgent care and specialised treatment, aid agencies have warned.

The UN official said that the  “man-made crisis” had devastated the economy of a country that was “pitifully poor” even before the current conflict, and forced three million people from their homes – leaving many being unable to earn a living or grow crops.

More than two years of fighting has destroyed the country’s infrastructure – including attacks that targeted civilians. Some 325 attacks have been verified on health facilities, schools, markets and other infrastructure.

As the violence rose, the ability to aid those in need has been hampered. The disruption of health services has been “severe,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the pledging event.

Less than half of the country’s health facilities are functioning and the majority of health providers, if they stayed, have not been paid since at least August 2016.

She warned also that infections would increase as the population grows hungrier.

“Large swaths of the population are on the brink of famine,” Dr Chan said.

“Between famine and death from starvation lies disease. Infections that a well-nourished body wards off become deadly in severely malnourished people.”

She called for more services, such as vaccinations, and access to basic health services.

Pledges were made by 48 Member States including the European Commission, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and four NGO/humanitarian organisations for humanitarian action in Yemen in 2017.

“Now we must see the pledges translated into the scaled up action the people of Yemen need and deserve,” Guterres said.

The war in Yemen started after peaceful demonstrations calling for the downfall of the Saleh regime in 2011 were met with violent and brutal responses. Ali Abdullah Saleh was given immunity and removed from power and was replaced with Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi.

In September 2014, the Houthi rebels, a group which Saleh had previously fought when in power, aligned with the ousted leader to bring down the new transitional government.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign to help the internationally recognised government regain control of territory lost to the Houthi rebels.

The war has so far killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed the country to the brink of famine.