UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the U.N. was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a "staggering" 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a U.N. pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
"When money doesn't come, people die," she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country's north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen's internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015. The fighting in the Arab world's poorest country has killed thousands of civilians and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
U.N. deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, "but much of this is about to stop" because only 34% of the U.N.'s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen's neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But this year, she said, they have so far paid "only a modest share of what they promised."
The U.N. humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019, but so far the Saudis have contributed $127 million and the UAE $160 million. It said the Saudis have also given $89 million and the UAE $38 million to organizations working outside the plan.
Grande said the U.N. is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine "conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation."
But she said of the 34 major U.N. humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the U.N. for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
"Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive," she said. "All of us are ashamed by the situation. It's heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help."