The UN needs $2.3bn to help avert ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in the Arabian peninsula nation beset by war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-UAE led axis.
The UN has issued an urgent appeal for funds to stave off the threat of humanitarian disaster in Yemen but its decision to partner with Saudi Arabia to help come up with the cash is raising a few eyebrows.
The fundraiser on Tuesday, which was held online and co-hosted by Riyadh, aims to provide food and medical aid to Yemen’s beleaguered and war-weary population.
Giving Saudi Arabia such an essential role in raising money for the ongoing relief efforts has drawn criticism from rights groups.
“Saudi Arabia keeps trying to whitewash its coalition’s role in the deepening humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, but co-hosting the funding event won't fool anyone," Human Rights Watch (HRW) Yemen researcher, Afrah Nasser, said in a statement.
More than 100,000 people have died in the Arabian peninsula nation since an axis led by Saudi Arabia and UAE intervened militarily to stop Houthi rebels from overrunning the country.
Many civilians had been killed in airstrikes carried out by the Saudis and Emiratis and as a result of starvation and disease brought about by a blockade of Houthi territory.
UN experts have previously accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of carrying out war crimes in Yemen.
"The Saudi-led coalition, along with Houthi forces that have brutalised civilians and obstructed aid, should immediately cease violating the laws of war and put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen for which they're all responsible,” HRW’s Nasser added.
According to the UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, around 24 million people in Yemen, or four in five, require lifesaving help.
Describing the situation as the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis”, Guterres said two million children were currently suffering from acute malnutrition, which could “stunt their growth and affect them throughout their lives.”
In addition to the threat of starvation, the country is experiencing a cholera epidemic, which has infected more than 1.2 million people in the last two years, according to the UN. Many analysts have attributed the outbreak to damage caused to Yemen’s infrastructure by the Saudis and Emiratis.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has also hit Yemen hard, with the port city of Aden reporting one of the highest mortality rates for covid-19 globally.
It is not just Saudi Arabia, which has pledged aid on the one hand and participated in making the situation worse in Yemen on the other.
The UK has also come under fire for giving $1.2bn in aid to Yemenis while continuing to supply the Saudis and Emiratis with weapons.
In 2019, the British government criticised a court ruling declaring UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth $5.9bn unlawful.
In comments reported by the Guardian, Jon Cunliffe, of Action against Hunger in the Middle East, said it was a “bitter irony” that countries that either participated directly in the war or armed belligerents were the biggest donors at Tuesday’s event.
“It isn’t enough to just throw money at the problem, we need to see concrete evidence that governments are genuinely committed to a political solution,” Cunliffe said.
“Saudi Arabia’s depth of influence will be far more important than the depth of its pockets if the goal is to ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.”