February 4, 2010 / 6:17 PM / 9 years ago

World ignoring humanitarian needs in Yemen, UN warns

GENEVA (Reuters) - The humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening, yet donors are shunning the country, putting life-saving programs at risk, the top United Nations aid official said on Thursday.

John Holmes, U.N. emergency relief coordinator, also said in an interview that intensified fighting between government forces and al-Houthi rebels in the north was preventing aid agencies reaching trapped civilians.

An estimated 250,000 people have fled their homes during the five-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country, doubling the figure since the latest round of fighting erupted in August, according to U.N. figures.

“The humanitarian situation is just getting worse without any doubt,” Holmes told Reuters. “Needs are great and in danger of not being met because the international community, the donors, have not responded as we would have hoped.”

The United Nations appealed late last year for $177 million in humanitarian aid for Yemen during 2010. It is only 0.4 percent funded, according to Holmes.

“If we don’t get some money, the aid pipeline will run out,” he warned.

The World Food Program (WFP), a U.N. agency, has indicated that its “food pipeline is about to break and they will have to reduce the numbers they are helping” in Yemen, he said.

The WFP is feeding Yemenis in camps for displaced persons, as well as children in schools and many of the 150,000 Somali refugees in Yemen.

The country was thrown into the spotlight of the U.S. war against terror after a Yemen-based regional wing of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed December 25 attack by a Nigerian suspect on a Detroit-bound passenger plane.

“Yemen has been on the media profile because of the bomber, worries about counter-terrorism and al-Qaeda, and the fragility of Yemen more broadly, but very little attention is being paid to the humanitarian situation,” Holmes said.

Talks last week in London to foster concerted action against extremist groups and address the causes of radicalization failed to mention humanitarian aid in the final statement, he said.

The United States should increase aid to Yemen to prevent it from becoming a failed state and not just focus on assistance to fight al-Qaeda there, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank said on Thursday.

Fighting has prevented aid agencies reaching insecure areas, particularly Saada, making it hard to get a picture of the situation and mounting civilian casualties, Holmes said.

Editing by Paul Taylor

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