The people of Yemen and humanitarian organisations have condemned a shortfall in international donor funding, calling it a “death sentence” for people already suffering in the country’s civil war.
The shortfall is a result of governments tightening their belts while fighting the pandemic, including the UK government which decided to cut roughly 50% of its support for humanitarian efforts.
The UN hoped to raise US$3.85bn (£2.76bn) from more than 100 governments and donors at a virtual pledging conference on Monday to avert widespread famine in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but received just US$1.7bn.
The UN secretary general described the result of the funding pledge as a “disappointing outcome”. In a recurring theme, the total raised at last year’s conference also fell US$1.5bn short of what was sought.
“Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence,” António Guterres said in a statement.
The figure pledged was less than the UN received in 2020, when donations were hit by the coronavirus downturn, and US$1bn less than what was pledged at the 2019 conference, he added.
The UK, which is intimately involved in Yemen’s conflict as a leading supplier and supporter of the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition fighting in the war, has come in for particular criticism from aid agencies and political figures for cutting aid while continuing arms sales.
Britain pledged £87m at Monday’s event – 54% of last year’s donation of £160m, and only 40% of the total funding the UK provided in 2020.
Andrew Mitchell, the former international development secretary, said: “The government had made an unimaginable decision … in the middle of a global pandemic. Britain is the [pen holder]at the UN on Yemen, yet this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation.”
Reports emerged earlier this year that the UK was planning to cut the legally mandated budget of 0.7% of national income on foreign aid projects, a move that diplomats and experts warned would translate into a 50-70% reduction in funding and a “gut punch” for the world’s poorest people.
Mitchell called for the government to bring forward planned Commons votes on the legality of the cuts, predicting that the impact of the Yemen decision would “bring home the reality” of the proposals and that ministers would struggle to force the changes through parliament.
Ministers have acknowledged they must hold a Commons vote for the proposed cut in aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income to be lawful, although Boris Johnson, is trying to prevent a vote taking place before he hosts the G7 in June.
The Foreign Office said the £87m pledge for Yemen compared with a £164m total promised by the government at the same conference last year, but that through 2020-21 the government provided a higher total of £214m.
The chance that the UK will boost its total pledge this year, however, is less likely owing to the general cuts in UK aid programming. If the £87m is not increased, it would be the lowest annual amount provided since 2015.
A Yemeni aid worker coordinating food distribution programmes, who asked the Guardian not to use her name to protect her organisation’s work, said: “It is hard to describe how heartbreaking the situation in Yemen is right now. We have already had aid cuts since the beginning of 2020 which have helped put 16 million people into hunger. That’s half of the whole population. Children are dying every day here. It is not a moral decision to abandon Yemen.”
Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014 when Houthi rebel forces seized control of the capital, Sana’a, leading the UN-recognised government to flee to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. (Source: The Guardian)