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DUBAI: The United Nations on Monday urged international donors to raise $3.85 billion to prevent large-scale famine “engulfing” Yemen, ravaged by six years of war. More than 100 governments and donors are taking part in a virtual pledging conference — co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland — as Yemen’s Huthi rebels push to seize the government’s last northern stronghold.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions gone hungry in the conflict, which has plunged Yemen into what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. “I implore all donors to fund our appeal generously today to stop famine engulfing the country. Every dollar counts,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said as the conference opened.

With aid donations battered by the coronavirus turndown in 2020, forcing the closure of many humanitarian programmes, conditions in Yemen have become even more dire. The UN and its partners last year received $1.9 billion — about half of what was needed in a country where some two thirds of the population relies on some form of aid to survive. “Today, famine is bearing down on Yemen,” said Guterres. “The race is on, if we want to prevent hunger and starvation from taking millions of lives.” “Reducing aid is a death sentence for entire families.”

The UN is seeking to raise $3.85 billion from donors, including wealthy Gulf nations, after falling $1.5 billion short of the required $3.4 billion last year. Some of the headline pledges on Monday, including Washington’s $191 million and Saudi Arabia’s $430 million, were smaller than last year’s donations.

However, Germany offered $200 million, compared to $138 last year, and Norway pledged $200 million, up from just $18 million. According to the latest UN data, more than 16 million Yemenis — about half the 29-million population — will face hunger this year.

Nearly 50,000 are already starving to death in famine-like conditions.

The world body has warned that 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five could die from acute malnutrition. The UN said in September that critical aid had been cut at 300 health centres across Yemen due to lack of funding, with more than a third of its major humanitarian programmes in the country either reduced or shut down entirely. Twelve aid groups, including Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), have warned in a joint statement of a “catastrophe” for Yemen if funding cuts continue. “Severe aid cuts have deepened the suffering,” they said, adding that six million people including three million children have had no access to clean water or sanitation services during the coronavirus pandemic. NRC spokeswoman Sultana Begum said they will “be forced to make further life-threatening cuts” if not enough money is given. The conference comes as the US steps up efforts to revive a peace process, halting support to the Saudi-led military coalition which backs the government against the Huthis and de-listing the latter as terrorists. But Huthi fighters have intensified operations against Saudi Arabia as coalition air strikes pound rebel positions in the north of Yemen, in a bid to stop their campaign to seize the government’s last northern stronghold of Marib. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the rebels to halt the battle for Marib, warning that the nation’s suffering will not stop until a political solution is found.


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