GENEVA: Countries around the world on Tuesday pledged more than one billion dollars to help prevent a looming famine in war-torn Yemen at a conference UN chief Antonio Guterres called a “remarkable success.”
Yet the $1.1 billion (1.0 billion euros) promised fell far short of the $2.1 billion the United Nations has estimated is needed this year alone in a country facing “a tragedy of immense proportions.”
But Guterres praised the generosity of donor nations, pointing out that such conferences generally do not gather more than a third of the requested amount.
This shows a “remarkable solidarity with the Yemeni people,” the UN secretary general told reporters.
Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who along with his Swedish counterpart co-hosted the conference, also applauded the results but acknowledged that “we need even more.”
When opening the conference Tuesday morning, Guterres had said it was vital to act quickly.
“We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation,” he said, adding that Yemen is gripped by “the world’s largest hunger crisis”.
He warned that children especially were already dying at an alarming rate, but stressed that “a famine can be prevented if we act quickly and commit to funding crucial life-saving assistance”.
The UN had already said back in February that it would need $2.1 billion to help avert famine in Yemen, but by the time Tuesday’s conference opened, that appeal had only been 15 percent funded.
‘Writhing with hunger’
Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Mubarek Bin-Dagher had urged donors to be generous, describing how some of his compatriots were “writhing with hunger”.
“$2.1 billion is the minimum that we should plan on raising,” he told the conference.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien meanwhile said that Yemen was “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis today.”
“We must do more and can do more,” he said, insisting that “we can, with your money and support, scale up, we can avert famine and the worst catastrophe.”
But O’Brien underlined that humanitarian aid alone would not resolve Yemen’s crisis.
“We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations and peace,” he said.
Yemen’s war has pitted pro-government forces against Iran-backed Huthi rebels and their allies, renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to help the government retake the capital Sanaa and swathes of the country’s north and west.
Fighting in Yemen has killed more than 7,700 people over the past two years and forced 3.3 million people to flee their homes, according to UN numbers.
All UN mediation attempts and seven declared ceasefires have so far failed.
’50 children will die’
The conflict has dramatically deepened Yemen’s drawn-out humanitarian crisis, with a full 19 millions people — two-thirds of the population — now in need of humanitarian aid, the UN said.
A total of 17 million of them are going hungry, including more than two million children currently considered acutely malnourished.
“On average, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes in Yemen every 10 minutes,” Guterres said.
“This means 50 children in Yemen will die during today’s conference, and all those deaths could have been prevented.”
Many of the children who survive “will be affected by stunting and poor health for their entire lives,” he added.
Anthony Lake, head of the UN children’s agency, urged the world to act immediately, warning that “these children cannot wait for an official famine to be declared.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom noted that with two million children out of school, there is a growing risk of recruitment by armed groups, while two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18.
“We must act now”, she said.