For Yemenis on the brink, aid funding gap spells disaster
Already the world's worst humanitarian crisis after years of conflict and mass displacement, aid cuts due to lack of funds and arrival of COVID-19 put millions of lives at risk.
In this photo from February 2020, Ipteehal, 9, plays with her sister outside the unfinished building where they live with other displaced families in Al Mukalla, Yemen.
© UNHCR/Marie-Joëlle Jean-Charles
Having suffered through more than five years of conflict and displacement in Yemen, including the death of her husband and the destruction of her house, 29-year-old Ahlam had thought until recently that things could not get any worse.
Forced to flee her hometown of Taizz in 2015 by fighting that still rages to this day, she now lives in rented accommodation with her mother and sisters in Ibb governorate to the north, dependent on the humanitarian aid they receive from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and others.
Then came the arrival of COVID-19, which poses a particularly stark threat to displaced people like Ahlam, given the lack of resources to sustain themselves and guard against infection. With only half of the country’s health facilities currently operational, many of those requiring medical attention would be unable to access it.
"We are afraid."
“Because of this disease we are afraid, and we sit at home,” Ahlam explained. “We witnessed three funerals last week of people who died suddenly.”
To make matters worse, the assistance that Ahlam and millions of other Yemenis and refugees rely on for their survival is threatened by a critical gap in funding, which has already forced UNHCR to scale back its life-saving cash assistance programme from this month.
Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with some 24 million people requiring aid and more than 3.6 million people forced to flee their homes. Most displaced people live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, making both physical distancing and regular handwashing impossible.
Despite the overwhelming needs of the population, of the total US$211.9 million that UNHCR requires for its operations in 2020, it has so far received just US$63 million, equivalent to 30 per cent of the total.
Without an urgent increase in funding of at least US$89.4 million, UNHCR would have no option but to withdraw further critical support to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable displaced Yemenis and refugees, including mattresses, blankets, and emergency shelter, meaning people would be forced to sleep out in the open.
"Abandoning Yemen now is not an option."
Ahead of a pledging conference for Yemen hosted by the UN and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 2 June, the heads of 17 UN agencies and NGOs last week warned that many Yemenis are “running out of time” and called on the international community to donate generously and promptly to humanitarian operations.
“UNHCR and its partners are ready to stay and deliver in Yemen, but for this to happen we need additional funds now,” said UNHCR Representative in Yemen Jean-Nicolas Beuze.
“Through our cash programme, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of Yemenis at a time when they need us most. Nobody is safe from COVID-19 without everyone being safe, and abandoning Yemen now is not an option,” he added.
- See also: UNHCR: Shortfall threatens critical aid for nearly one million displaced Yemenis and refugees
The consequences of a reduction in assistance for Ahlam and her family would be disastrous, she said, including the very real threat of losing the roof over their heads, which they only managed to secure thanks to their most recent UNHCR cash payment.
“This money saved us from eviction,” Ahlam explained. “The landlord wanted to get us out of the house, but we paid for two months’ rent and the rest of the money we used to buy food, because we did not have anything in our home.”
It is familiar story for displaced Yemenis in Ibb governorate and across the war-torn country. Omar fled his home in the western coastal governorate of Al Hudaydah with his wife and three children after their home was damaged during conflict that also injured a number of his neighbours.
"We depend on humanitarian assistance."
After settling in Ibb governorate, Omar and his family are now entirely reliant on the assistance they receive to get by, with work almost impossible to find in an economy close to collapse.
“We depend on humanitarian assistance. because there aren't any jobs," Omar said. “Without the money we received, how can we live? We left our homes and families, we have no one here.”
If UNHCR and others are forced to withdraw their support, Omar said he would be forced to risk his health during the current pandemic to try to feed his family, or face the prospect of starvation.
“Our situation would be very bad. I would have to go out to find any job, even if there are risks of diseases. I will not let them go hungry.”