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Fighting, hunger and corona in Yemen : The aim is to save the poorest country in the Arab world from collapse

After years of war, cholera and hunger, precautions against coronavirus are a luxury for many people in Yemen that they cannot afford.

Waleed al Haj, head of the Yemeni aid organization Baader, recently reported at an online conference how he spoke to a neighbor in the capital Sanaa about the importance of washing hands and keeping your distance.

The man had little understanding for the teachings of Haj: "My nine-year-old child has to queue for three hours to get just 40 liters of usable water for the whole family," he said.

At an internet donor conference hosted by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, the international community discussed aid to Yemen on Tuesday. Germany, represented by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Niels Annen, pledged 125 million euros. A total of around 2.4 billion dollars are to be raised to save the poorest country in the Arab world from complete collapse.

180 million dollars alone are needed to fight the corona pandemic. United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock estimates that the funds currently available will only last a few weeks.

The war has been going on for five years

The nightmare of the 28 million inhabitants of Yemen has been going on for five years. At that time, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the conflict between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government. The then Saudi Defense Minister and now Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hoped for a quick victory over the Shiite rebels.

But the Houthis were stronger than expected and not only conquered large parts of the country, but even attacked Saudi cities with rockets. The Saudi military responded with devastating air strikes, with weapons and logistical support from the West. Meanwhile, Iran continued to deliver armaments to the Houthis.

Proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia

It is now clear that the proxy war between the Sunni Saudis and the Shiite leading power Iran, which is being fought in Yemen, cannot be won militarily by any of the warring parties. Nevertheless, the fighting continues. Cracks in the Saudi coalition due to the withdrawal of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the war are further destabilizing the situation.

Neither side shows consideration for the civilian population. Today 24 million Yemenis are dependent on aid deliveries, ten million are acutely threatened by hunger, according to an estimate by the UN World Food Program. Two million children are classified as severely malnourished. The destruction of the infrastructure encourages the spread of diseases. The worst cholera epidemic in the world has raged in Yemen in recent years: since 2016 until today, the UN has counted around 2.3 million infections and almost 4,000 deaths. The country's health system, which was already shattered by war and cholera, is now also facing the corona pandemic. Officially, there are only 354 cases and 84 fatalities in Yemen so far. But both sides in the war must be accused of concealing the actual extent of the spread of Covid-19.

"Catastrophic cuts" in aid

Now, of all times, 31 out of 41 UN aid programs run out of money. At least 1.6 billion dollars are needed to prevent "catastrophic cuts" in aid and to save millions of people from starvation, said Lise Grande, the coordinator of UN aid, the Reuters news agency. Aid commitments are far from always being kept. Last year donor countries had promised a total of 3.2 billion dollars - this year, however, according to the UN, only 474 million dollars have been received so far.

This time too, at least on paper, there is great willingness to help. Ahead of Tuesday's donor conference, Saudi Arabia pledged $ 525 million, the US pledged $ 225 million and the UK promised $ 200 million. It is a "bitter irony" that some of the largest donors are also involved as warring parties or as supporters in the conflict, said Jon Cunliffe of the US aid organization Action Against Hunger of the British newspaper "Guardian".

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