June 12, 2020 / 11:37 AM / a month ago

Cash-strapped aid projects face closure in Yemen as COVID-19 spreads - U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. aid agencies said on Friday three quarters of the programmes they back in Yemen will have to close in the next few weeks without more funding, even as both cholera and the novel coronavirus spread.

FILE PHOTO: Women watch as a nurse attends to their relative who is being treated at an intensive care unit of a hospital for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

A five-year conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi group has left most Yemenis malnourished and reliant on aid.

International donors promised $1.35 billion for Yemen at a conference on June 2 - but that was short of the U.N. target of $2.4 billion needed to save the world’s biggest aid operation from severe cutbacks.

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

“Now, more than ever, the country needs the outside world’s help and it’s not really getting it,” he said.

Yemen has reported 564 cases of COVID-19, but the figures lag and may not include all cases in areas controlled by the Houthi authorities in the north, Colville said.

It has reported 130 related deaths, though aid agencies have said testing levels are low.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said only 47% of the promised $1.35 billion had actually been received.

Donors should “pay rapidly”, Laerke said. “Programmes will close, in fact many have already closed because of the lack of funding,” he added.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said water, sanitation and hygiene services for 4 million people would start shutting down in July if it did not get $30 million by the end of this month.

About 137,000 cases of cholera and diarrhoea have been recorded this year, nearly a quarter of them in children under five, the agency’s Marixie Mercado told the same briefing.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Heavens

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