UNITED NATIONS — Yemen has eclipsed Syria as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, said the UN’s top diplomat as he sought billions of dollars in aid to help the country’s most vulnerable cope with a worsening war.
“As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people — three-quarters of the population — need humanitarian aid and protection,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a donor conference in Geneva that raised $2 billion.
“Some 18 million people are food insecure, 1 million more than when we convened last year,” Guterres continued. “And a horrifying 8.4 million of these people do not know how they will obtain their next meal. . . . Yemen’s situation today is catastrophic.”
The conference, sponsored by the UN and the governments of Sweden and Switzerland, drew pledges from 40 nations and organizations, including Saudi Arabia. Officials hope to raise $3 billion.
Experts and UN officials have said Saudi Arabia became a party to the conflict when it launched a military campaign on its neighbor to counter a Houthi-led rebellion that took hold and seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and ousted President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in September 2014.
The Houthis’ main backer has been Iran, which has long been locked in a battle for dominance in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, scholars have said. The United States supports the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen.
Like Syria, Yemen has been the site of continuous bombing and the exchange of gunfire, resulting in thousands of deaths. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that some 22 million people, or 75 percent of the population, need humanitarian assistance.
“Money alone is not enough to meet Yemen’s urgent humanitarian needs,” said Mercedes Tatay, international medical secretary for Doctors Without Borders, adding that donations “must be complemented by much more robust action on the ground.”
The warfare has prevented the delivery of aid to the sick, hungry and wounded, she added. The Geneva-based medical organization operates in 13 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and supports more than 20 institutions across Yemen.
“Humanitarian agencies and their partners need full and unconditional access at all times,” Guterres said. “But humanitarian agencies report access constraints in 90 percent of districts in Yemen.”
And the International Committee of the Red Cross said the Yemeni crisis is particularly acute because of the manner in which the war is being waged.
As in Syria, which has been described as a site for war crimes and crimes against humanity, hospitals and civilian infrastructure — and civilians themselves — have come under fire in Yemen.
“Yemeni society is succumbing to a slow death through mass hunger and little medicine,” said Robert Mardini, ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East. “It is impossible to express the gravity of the situation.”