Human Rights

UN shuts down major humanitarian programmes in Yemen

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Yemenis displaced from areas near the border with Saudi Arabia receive humanitarian aid given by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the northern province of Hajjah on March 11th, 2019. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

The UN on Wednesday (September 23rd) announced it has reduced or shut down 15 of its 41 major humanitarian programmes in Yemen.

It warned that 30 more programmes could face the same fate unless additional funding is received.

In a statement announcing the cuts, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen Lise Grande said only $1 billion of the $3.2 billion needed had been received.

"It is an impossible situation," she said. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, yet we do not have the resources we need to save the people who are suffering and will die if we do not help."

The UN said critical aid had been cut at 300 health centres across the country, with lifesaving food handouts also reduced, AFP reported.

Between April and August, it said, more than a third of its major humanitarian programmes in Yemen were reduced or shut down entirely, warning of further drastic cuts "in coming weeks unless additional funding is received".

Grande urged international donors to show solidarity with the Yemeni people, and to deeply consider the continued provision of the needed resources.

"The consequences of under-funding are immediate, enormous and devastating," she said.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned the "spectre of famine" had returned in Yemen.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths meanwhile warned that Yemen could "slip back away from the road to peace" and cited "increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs and the COVID-19 pandemic" as among the factors in play.

Interference in aid operations

"The reduction or partial closure of some humanitarian programmes will compound the humanitarian situation and increase the suffering of those who need [them]," said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

This will have the biggest impact on the areas controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), "where the most of the population lives", he said.

He stressed the need for donors to bridge the gap in funding so these programmes can continue, and urged the international community to pressure the Houthis to stop their violations against humanitarian and relief work.

"The Houthis' interference in the international organisations' operations and in the distribution of relief and food aid has directly affected the efficacy of these programmes," he said.

As a result, he added, humanitarian aid has been funneled away from the intended beneficiaries and distributed instead to the Houthis and their supporters.

"Part of that aid was even diverted to Houthi war efforts," he said. In cases where the militia has been able to sell misappropriated aid, he added, "a percentage of the value of that aid is handed to the militia".

'Onerous restrictions and obstacles'

Many rights groups primarily blame the Houthis for impeding humanitarian operations and intervening in the distribution of aid in areas under their control, economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

He pointed to a September 14th Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the deadly consequences of aid obstruction in Yemen during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which listed a number of Houthi violations.

"Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and respond to other urgent health needs in Yemen have been severely hampered by onerous restrictions and obstacles that the Houthi and other authorities have imposed on international aid agencies and humanitarian organisations," the report said.

According to the report, the Houthis have "stigmatised being infected by the virus and threatened medical workers, leaving sick people afraid to seek treatment and cemetery workers burying the dead in secret".

"As of late July, the Houthis had recorded only a few cases of COVID-19 and stopped all social distancing measures after saying the virus no longer posed a threat," the report said.

Thabet pointed to the impact of the closure of some health programmes in early September in Sanaa and other Houthi-controlled provinces.

"The health sector is the most affected," he said, with about half of it knocked out of service as a result of the ongoing conflict.

"The closure of some health programmes and the stoppage of funding to hospitals and salaries of health workers forced those facilities to impose huge amounts of money so they can continue to provide services," he said.

"Yemenis are bearing the consequences of that closure," Thabet said.

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