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Urgent help for Yemen, aid groups tell meet

RIYADH: Seven aid groups on Wednesday warned Western diplomats that Yemen was on the brink of a “catastrophic food crisis” and urged them to bolster efforts to salvage the situation as they meet in Riyadh for an international conference to help the nation. “Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food crisis,” the seven agencies which include Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children, said in a joint statement released Wednesday ahead of the “Friends of Yemen” meeting. The agencies called on ministers from the wealthy Gulf countries and Western nations due to attend the meeting to “scale up efforts to tackle” the problem. At least 10 million people, some 44 percent of the population, do not get “enough food to eat”, it said, adding that one in three children was “severely malnourished”. Penny Lawrence, international director at Oxfam, who is visiting Yemen, said that “Yemenis have exhausted their ways of coping…and a quarter of the population has fallen into debt trying to feed their families”. She said even as donors are focused on politics and security issues which continue to plague the impoverished nation’s development and stability, their “failure to respond adequately to the humanitarian needs now will put more lives at risk”. Oxfam, in a separate report released with the statement, even accused international donors of “finding reasons not to give” aid. So far only 43 percent of $455 million earlier asked by UN and other partner organizations have been received for humanitarian aid for Yemen, with ongoing conflicts in the country’s northern and southern provinces only exacerbating the crisis. In the last two months alone, aid agencies say more than 95,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, bringing the total number of displaced to more than half a million. Yemen is expected to ask donors for about $10 billion in urgent aid at the two-day meeting in Riyadh which will include representatives from the European Union, the United Nations, the United States, and the oil-rich Gulf neighbors. In a recent interview with AFP in Sanaa, Yemen’s Planning Minister Mohammed al-Saadi said the funds were needed for “economic recovery and to stabilise the economy and the currency”. He said despite the fact that a Friends of Yemen meeting is often focused on the political and security aspects of the country’s transition, the “figures will be discussed”. Western diplomats, however, say they will only make financial commitments at a formal donor conference, known as the Consultative Group Meeting, to be held in early July.