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Donor conference Switzerland pledges over CHF40 million to Yemen

A malnourished child lies in a bed waiting to receive treatment at a therapeutic feeding centre in a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, in January, 2017

(Keystone)

Donor countries have pledged nearly $1.1 billion (CHF1.1 billion) for humanitarian aid to Yemen following a United Nations conference in Geneva on Tuesday. Switzerland, which helped organise the meeting with Sweden, has promised over CHF40 million over the next three years.

The UN says it needs $2.1 billion this year to avert famine in Yemen, where a child dies every ten minutes of hunger and disease.

Two years of conflict between Houthi rebels aligned with Iran and a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that carries out air strikes almost daily have killed at least 10,000 people in Yemen, and hunger and disease are rife there.

“We will not forget the Yemeni people,” Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told reporters following the one-day donor conference in the western Swiss city.

Switzerland plans to increase its humanitarian assistance to Yemen to at least CHF14 million in 2017.

“Over the next four years, we pledge to spend over CHF40 million to sustain our support to Yemen,” Burkhalter announced in his speech in Geneva, attended by 500 officials, including representatives from 73 states.

The Swiss money will mostly go towards activities by the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help provide water, food and protection of the civilian population.

The biggest donors in Geneva were Qatar, the European Union, which promised €116 million, and the United States, which will give around $100 million. Prior to the conference only 8% of the overall humanitarian budget was covered.

'Daunting'

Burkhalter described the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as ‘daunting’.

“The people of Yemen need our immediate and comprehensive support,” he declared.

Two-thirds of Yemen’s population depend on humanitarian assistance every day. Around 17 million people have become food insecure and face additional problems of gaining access to water.

According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, more than 1,200 children have already died in the conflict. In addition to half a million children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, two million children are now not able to go to school in Yemen.

Burkhalter called for ‘rapid, unimpeded and sustained access’ so that humanitarian organisations can provide humanitarian assistance in Yemen and cross frontlines. He also urged all parties to comply with international humanitarian law and to protect the civilian population and civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals. 

Several NGOs criticised donor governments despite the money promised.

Oxfam said in a statement that the international community had 'fallen short' in its support for the Yemeni people as only half the UN appeal was covered.

“However much money has been pledged today, the best way to prevent famine in Yemen is for weapons to fall silent and for the parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table. Preventing famine must be the priority – not military gains," said Shane Stevenson, Oxfam's Senior Programme Manager for Yemen.

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