U.N. Appeals for $1.6bn for War-Ravaged Yemen

The United Nations on Friday appealed for $1.6 billion to help the millions of people in need of aid in war-torn Yemen, warning of a “looming catastrophe”.

The money is needed to address the “constantly increasing humanitarian needs in Yemen” until the end of 2015, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N.’s humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.

He said more than “21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, is now estimated to be in need of some form of humanitarian aid.”

Friday’s funding appeal will meanwhile only cover aid, including food, water and shelter, to 11.7 million of the most vulnerable people in need, the U.N. said in a statement.

The appeal came as Yemen’s warring sides entered a fifth and likely final day of what appeared to be deadlocked consultations with the U.N.’s special envoy for Yemen, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in Geneva.

U.N. Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brian launched the aid appeal in Geneva on Friday, revising the figure up from a combined $1.02 billion requested in December and April.

At the launch, O’Brian warned that “a looming humanitarian catastrophe is facing Yemen,” according to a statement.

He described a nightmare situation in the impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula.

“People across the country are struggling to feed themselves and their families and basic services are collapsing in all regions of the country,” he warned.

“Millions of families no longer have access to clean water, proper sanitation or basic healthcare. Deadly diseases such as dengue and malaria have broken out, and supplies for acute trauma care are running dangerously low,” he added.

Only about $200 million of the needed cash has so far been received, the U.N. said.

Saudi Arabia, which has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen since late March, pledged $274 million towards the U.N. appeal in April, and said last month it would hand over nearly as much in humanitarian aid outside the U.N. appeal system.

So far, the U.N. has not received any of the promised funds from Saudi Arabia, Laerke said, adding though that the country was on Friday expected to explain how the payments would be made.

Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shiite rebels and troops loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in February.

The rebels have overrun much of the Sunni-majority country and, along with their allies among forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been the target of Saudi-led air strikes since March.

More than 2,600 people have been killed since then.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the high-stakes Geneva negotiations on Monday with an appeal for a two-week humanitarian truce during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

But the belligerents’ positions are so far apart that they are not sitting in the same room and the U.N. is holding separate consultations with them, which seem to be at a standstill.

The negotiations have been bogged down by the government’s insistence that the rebels must withdraw from the vast territory they control, and its protest over the size of the rebel delegation, which is more than double of the pre-agreed number of 10.

U.N. spokesman Ahmed Fawzi told reporters Friday that Ould Cheikh Ahmed had been tirelessly shuttling between the delegations trying to get them to agree to a ceasefire.

“Cessation of hostilities is paramount,” he said.

The size of the rebel delegation remained a sticking point, he said, but that the U.N. special envoy nonetheless had been “discussing substance” with the two sides.

He had met with the rebel delegation until 2:00 am (0000 GMT) Friday, and had “extremely constructive talks,” Fawzi said.

The Geneva consultations were expected to wrap up Friday, could last into the weekend, Fawzi said.

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