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'Time is running out': Humanitarian groups plead with US to resume aid to Yemen

Suspension of aid to country's north is 'increasingly out of step' with situation on ground, aid groups say
If assistance does not increase, the number of people facing acute food insecurity will rise to 3.2 million people.
Yemen has endured years of chaos since Houthis seized capital and large swathes of north Yemen (AFP)

A coalition of humanitarian groups have called on the Trump administration to rescind a months-long suspension of aid to northern areas of Yemen, warning that unless it is done immediately it will cause further suffering and claim innocent lives.

In a letter sent to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Thursday, the humanitarian groups said that while they "harbor no illusions about the difficult operating environment across Yemen", the suspension of aid is "increasingly out of step" with the situation on the ground.

'The first cases of Covid-19 emerged in Yemen just two weeks after the suspension took effect, creating a new crisis within a crisis'

- International aid groups

USAID halted millions of dollars of assistance to north Yemen in March - citing "unacceptable interference" by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that control the region.

"In such dire circumstances, it is not justifiable to withhold funding for some humanitarian activities in order to leverage improved operating conditions for others," the letter read.

"We urge you to abandon the suspension and restore USAID funding wherever partners can operate in a principled manner."

The request comes as Yemen faces "one of the worst" coronavirus outbreaks in the world, according to the aid groups.

"The first cases of Covid-19 emerged in Yemen just two weeks after the suspension took effect, creating a new crisis within a crisis," the letter read.

With only half of the country's medical facilities functioning, and fewer than 10 medics for every 10,000 people, Yemen is more than 50 percent below the basic health coverage benchmark outlined by the World Health Organisation.

Gap in funding

In an attempt to alleviate concerns that caused the suspension of the aid, the groups said that constraints imposed by the Houthis were slowly improving and the rebels had scrapped a two percent levy on humanitarian activities.

"While operating in Yemen remains challenging, there is now an improved environment for the delivery of life-saving assistance in northern Yemen."

The letter also said that while the funding cuts were aimed at stopping aid restrictions put in place by the Houthis, the major challenge to providing life-saving assistance was the shortfall in funding.

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A UN fundraiser for Yemen in June fell short of its goal by $1bn, leaving a large gap in funding for its aid programmes.

"This year's annual pledging conference drew record low commitments. More than halfway through the year, Yemen has received only 21 percent of the required humanitarian funding," the letter read.

Meanwhile, Yemen was seeing a resurgence in fighting this year with the number of bombings in the first half of 2020 doubling those of the previous period.

Famine and hunger are on the rise, and according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and if humanitarian assistance does not improve, the number of people facing acute food insecurity this year will increase to about 3.2 million people.

"We therefore reiterate our call for USAID to immediately lift the suspension and restore funding for humanitarian aid across Yemen," the letter read.

"Time is running out for tens of millions of Yemenis."