A picture taken on May 9, 2019 shows Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu (C) at sunset waiting to enter the port of Le Havre. - French President defended his country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on May 9, 2019 as campaigners focused attention on a new shipment set to leave from the northern port of Le Havre. Human rights groups have regularly denounced France for continuing to supply the Gulf states despite allegations of war crimes and civilian deaths during their military operations in neighbouring Yemen. (Photo by Jean-FranÁois MONIER / AFP)

Saudi Arabia Pledges $500 Million in Aid for Yemen

The situation in Yemen remains drastic, as millions struggle to survive amid the ferocious civil war. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated their situation further. Now, for the first time, Saudi Arabia co-hosted a donor conference – despite being one of the main parties to the ongoing conflict.

Yemen’s First Case of COVID-19

In early April COVID-19 was first detected in Yemen. Since then, there has been growing concern that the number of infected people could increase rapidly. According to official information, about 350 people have been infected with the coronavirus in Yemen so far, and about 80 people died from it. However, the numbers are not very meaningful because hardly any tests are being carried out, and the rebels in the north do not publish any coronavirus numbers at all. However, there are indications that the corona mortality rate in Yemen is among the highest in the world.

Millions of people had already been struggling to survive in the country since a war between the Houthis — a Shi’ite clan from the north of Yemen — and neighboring Saudi Arabia, which supports the displaced internationally recognized government, started five years ago.

The War’s Human Cost

Since the beginning of the war, more than 112,000 people have been killed, including 12,600 civilians in targeted attacks. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a “race against time.” Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world — hunger and epidemics are widespread. Ten million people are already at risk of starvation.

Due to ongoing fighting and airstrikes, it is also sometimes impossible for aid organizations to reach certain areas and distribute water and food there safely. The organization also often has problems reaching areas because it needs permits to visit those areas. These had already been significant challenges before COVID-19, and they have gradually intensified since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Weak Healthcare Infrastructure

Besides, an inadequate health care situation also remains an issue: many people are sick or wounded but cannot afford medication. Few people can also raise the money for transport to a clinic, especially in the remote, mountainous areas. The health system is completely overloaded; many facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the war.

At the beginning of the year, seriously ill people were flown from the airport in Sana’a to Jordan and Egypt for treatment. It is estimated that up to 30,000 Yemenis died during the war just because they could not be treated abroad. This misery has continued with the closure of the airports during the pandemic. For humanitarian reasons, the only solution is to end the conflict. In addition to financial support, peace is the most crucial matter that aid organizations need to be able to meet the needs in Yemen.

Aid Under Threat

Now, 30 of the 41 most crucial aid programs in the impoverished Arab country are threatened with extinction within a few weeks due to lack of funding. In response, the United Nations held a donor conference with Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations sought to raise just under two and a half billion dollars during a virtual donor conference to fund important aid missions from June to December. In the end, “only” 1.35 billion were pledged among the 30 participating states. UN emergency aid coordinator Mark Lowcock was disappointed and said that the sum could not be satisfied. Still, one shouldn’t give up.

The largest donor country is Saudi Arabia, with $500 million dollars in aid, followed by the United States at $225 million and the United Kingdom at $197 million. Germany, meanwhile, seeks to provide aid of 125 million euros this year.

A similar donor conference in Geneva had raised $2.6 billion last year. However, because countries are struggling with the effects of the coronavirus, the willingness to donate decreased during this week’s conference.

With the current donations not matching expectations nor needs, however, an end to the suffering in Yemen is not in sight.