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Coronavirus: Funding gaps jeopardise aid in Yemen as virus spreads, says UN

More than 30 of the 41 programmes United Nations supports will close in coming weeks if additional funds not secured
According to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks the global outbreak, there are currently more than 500 cases of Covid-19 in Yemen (Reuters)

United Nations aid agencies voiced alarm on Friday at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, as the coronavirus spreads and a lack of funding jeopardises life-saving programmes.

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"More than 30 of the 41 UN-supported programmes in Yemen will close in the coming weeks if additional funds are not secured," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a briefing in Geneva.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that of the $1.35bn pledged for Yemen in early June - $1bn short of the target - only 47 percent of promised funds have been received.

"Unless Unicef receives $30m by the end of June, water, sanitation and hygiene services will start shutting down for four million people in July," Marixie Mercado of the UN Children's Fund said. 

Only 10 percent of the $53m it seeks for Covid-19 operations has been received, reducing the UN's ability to provide protective equipment and medical supplies, she added.

Hospitals closing down

On Wednesday, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the coronavirus pandemic had caused Yemen's healthcare system to "collapse completely," with a lack of doctors and protective equipment expected to cause many avoidable deaths.

Claire HaDuong, the head of MSF's mission in Yemen, said that since Covid-19 reached the country's shores in March it had completed the destruction of the healthcare system that began when the war started five years ago.

The humanitarian organisation pleaded with the international community for assistance, saying it could not deal with the crisis "alone", and urged Houthi rebels - who control large areas in the country's north - to stop hindering the work of aid groups working to curb the outbreak.

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"Five years of fighting had caused Yemen's healthcare system to collapse in large part," HaDuong said. 

"Now, Covid-19 has made that collapse complete, with many hospitals closing for fear of the virus, or for lack of staff and personal protective equipment."

Authorities in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen confirmed their first case of the disease on 5 May, weeks after the internationally recognised government recorded cases in the country's south.

According to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak, there are currently 591 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Yemen, most of them in the south, leading the Yemeni government and its Saudi backers to accuse the Houthis of under-reporting cases.