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Yemen: UN funding shortage threatens critical aid for one million displaced

In order to continue life-saving programmes around $89.4m is needed in the coming weeks, world body says
Humanitarian groups have warnied that Yemen's lack of health infrastructure and inadequate testing means the actual number of Covid-19 cases could be much higher (AFP)

The United Nations has warned that nearly one million displaced Yemenis are at risk of losing their shelter and access to food and medicine due to a funding shortfall.

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that in order to continue life-saving programmes around $89.4m is needed in the coming weeks.

"Yemen is already considered to be the world's largest humanitarian crisis," UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said during a virtual news conference.

"The country is now also facing the overlapping threat of the coronavirus pandemic, and the impact of recent torrential rain and flooding."

Mantoo said the lack of funding threatens critical assistance for those in Yemen "most vulnerable" to the coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19.

She added that in addition to these threats, more than 100,000 people across Yemen have also been affected by recent floods, including in Aden which was considered a disaster area after eight people were killed.

Covid-19 cases maybe 'undetected'

On 10 April, Yemen officially reported its only confirmed Covid-19 case, a 60-year-old port official who has since recovered.

Still, humanitarian groups have been warning that the lack of proper health infrastructure - due to years of war that has destroyed many hospitals and health facilities across the country - and inadequate testing means the actual number of cases could be much higher.

"There is now a very real probability that the virus has been circulating undetected and unmitigated within communities," the office of the UN aid chief in Yemen said in a statement on Tuesday.

The office based the claim on transmission patterns and the amount of time that has passed since Yemen reported its first case.

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"Since the first confirmed Covid case, we have warned that the virus is now in Yemen and may quickly spread," Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in the aid chief's statement.

"The factors are all here. Low levels of general immunity, high levels of acute vulnerability and a fragile, overwhelmed health system."

Earlier this month, the UN said it was being forced to close down 31 out of 41 humanitarian programmes in Yemen amid a funding shortage, after the US Agency for International Development cut funding last month, over concerns that Houthi forces were blocking aid.

The Houthis have rejected these allegations.

Yemen - a country that has witnessed a five-year civil war between Houthi rebels and pro-government troops backed with a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition - has been devastated by conflict with more than 3.5 million internally displaced people, refugees, and asylum seekers dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

Roughly 24 million people in Yemen rely on aid while 10 million are facing famine, according to the UN.