Yemen in Focus: Where is the Saudi-Emirati aid money?

Yemen in Focus: Where is the Saudi-Emirati aid money?
This week we look at Saudi Arabia and the UAE failing to pay money they pledged, a US House vote to block arms sales to Riyadh and more.
10 min read
20 July, 2019
Yemen's war has pushed the impoverished state to the brink of famine [AFP]

The UN called out Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for failing to pay the full $750 million pledged during a humanitarian appeal for Yemen five months ago.

UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said the two countries have only paid a “modest proportion” of the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged at a UN fundraising event in February.

Of the $750 million, Saudi Arabia has so far only paid $121.7 million and the United Arab Emirates about $195 million, according to UN figures.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both leading countries in a military coalition that was formed to fight Houthi rebels in Yemen and reinstate the internationally recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The controversial coalition has been blamed for more than half of Yemen’s death toll, which exacerbated when it intervened in March 2015.

“Those who made the largest pledges – Yemen’s neighbours in the coalition - have so far paid only a modest proportion of what they promised,” Lowcock told the UN Security Council, noting that as a result the UN appeal was only 34 percent funded compared with 60 percent at this time last year, according to a Reuters report.

Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador responded by saying Riyadh had paid more than $400 million to the United Nations and other aid organisations this year.

“This year we alone ... we have paid more money into Yemen than any of the donors in the world,” Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told reporters.

The UAE’s mission to the United Nations said the Gulf state is “currently working with the UN on the modalities of the 2019 commitment to ensure maximum benefits for the Yemeni people.”

The UAE said it had allegedly given $5.5 billion in aid to Yemen since April 2015.

Meanwhile, the United States, which sells billions of dollars worth of weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, said it has paid more than $288.7 million to the UN Yemen appeal, making it the largest donor for 2019

“We join the call today for all donors to step up assistance in Yemen, and to fulfill their financial commitments,” senior US diplomat Rodney Hunter told the Security Council.

Read more: Comment: US-made weapons have fallen into 'wrong hands' before, but the UAE is illegally proliferating them

The war has killed thousands of people and has created what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Millions have fled their homes, and the UN has said 80 percent of Yemen's population - more than 24 million people - need aid, including 10 million who rely on food aid.

All sides have been complicit in the war: Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians while the Houthi rebels, meanwhile, have used drones and missiles to attack the neighbouring Saudi kingdom in response to what it describes as Saudi aggression in Yemen.

Progress on the ground

While on the topic, the UN food agency on Thursday said it reached an "agreement in principle" to restore full food aid to rebel-controlled parts of war-torn Yemen after suspending the aid last month.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the Security Council he got word of the as-yet-unsigned agreement even as he spoke to the group at a previous meeting. He didn't detail provisions of the potential pact, and a UN spokesman gave no further details when asked at a media briefing shortly afterward.

"A lot of progress has been made," Beasley told the council. "... But we've got to find a final solution. I believe we'll get there."

If the agreement is inked, the WFP is ready to get food back to Yemen's capital, Sanaa, "within days" of the signing, Beasley said.

The partial suspension of aid to Sanaa began late last month amid accusations the rebels were diverting the food from the hungriest people in the Arab world's poorest country, which has been pushed to the brink of starvation.

The suspension affects 850,000 people in Sanaa, where the WFP says the bulk of the looting takes place. The rebels, known as Houthis, denied the accusation. They have controlled the capital since 2014.

"Not a day has gone by where I have not thought of the impact that suspending food assistance may have," Beasley said, apologising to people in Sanaa and throughout Yemen for their ordeal.

The Houthis responded to the suspension by accusing the WFP of sending spoiled food but the agency bounced back the blame, saying some of the food had indeed gone bad due to being held for long in areas controlled by the rebels.

Despite the suspension, Beasley told the council that WFP has in the last month increased the overall number of Yemenis it has helped, from 10.6 million to 11.3 million.

‘Productive talks’

On the political front, UN envoy Martin Griffiths on Monday said he held "productive" talks with the Saudi deputy defence minister aimed at bolstering a ceasefire agreement for Yemen.

"We discussed how to keep Yemen out of the regional tensions, make progress in the implementation of the Stockholm agreement (and Saudi Arabia's) support to the peace process," Griffiths wrote on Twitter.

The meeting with Prince Khaled bin Salman came as representatives from Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels held talks on a UN vessel off the Yemeni coast to try to de-escalate tensions.

The hard-won truce agreement reached late last year in Sweden called on the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels to pull forces out of the key port of Hodeida and parts of the city.

The pullback was supposed to have taken place two weeks after the ceasefire went into force on December 18, but that deadline was missed.

In May, the UN announced the rebels had withdrawn from Hodeida and two other nearby ports, the first practical step on the ground since the ceasefire deal. But the government accused the militia of faking the pullout, saying it had merely handed control to allies.

On Monday, at the end of two days of talks - the first since February - a committee set up under the Sweden accord, also known as the Stockholm agreement, said it had agreed on "a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire".

Read more: Comment: The UAE's 'withdrawal' from Yemen is merely an illusion

The mechanism would be put in place as soon as possible with support from the UN which is part of the committee along with representatives of the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, a statement said.

Griffiths patches ties with Hadi 

Over in the states on Monday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend its ceasefire observation mission in Hodeida by six months, until January 15.

It also called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deploy a full contingent of observers "expeditiously" in the mission, which is mandated to have 75 staff but currently only has 20 on the ground.

The UN is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeida will allow desperately-needed food and medical aid to reach millions in need in Yemen.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen, which the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Griffith also met in Riyadh with Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi - their first encounter since Hadi accused him in May of siding with the Houthi rebels.

"I just concluded a meeting with President Hadi. I am grateful to him and his Government's commitment to the Stockholm agreement and his personal support to finding a political solution to the conflict in #Yemen," Griffith tweeted.

Hadi took issue with Griffiths over the rebel handover of Hodeida ports and fired off a letter to UN chief Guterres saying he "can no longer accept these offences" by the UN envoy.

The Sweden deal has come under further strain as the Houthis escalate drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities.

The coalition was forced to intercept several drones launched by Houthi rebels against the kingdom this week, in what is seemingly becoming a regular occurrence.

Senators rebuke Trump..again

Also in the US, the House voted on Wednesday to block $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other allies, a rebuke of Donald Trump that will likely lead to yet another veto by the president.

Lawmakers, many of whom remain outraged with the kingdom over Riyadh's role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, approved three resolutions that would prevent the controversial sales announced under emergency measures earlier this year by Trump.

The resolutions blocking the sales have already cleared the US Senate, and now go to the White House, where Trump is expected to issue a veto, the third of his presidency.

While the House blocked the sales with a comfortable majority, it was about 50 votes shy of the two-thirds needed to override Trump's veto.

Trump is seeking 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons and equipment to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Critics say the arms sales would aggravate the devastating war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a US-backed coalition in a battle against the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels, and which the UN said has triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"When we see what's going on in Yemen, it's so important for the United States to take a stand," House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said on the House floor.

The veteran Democrat concurred that the threats from the Iranian-backed Huthis were real, "but that doesn't mean we should just look the other way in the face of violence and the slaughter of civilians."

Trump's administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sale in May, as his administration declared Iran to be a "fundamental threat" to the stability of the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia's arch foe rival Iran, which backs the Huthi rebels in Yemen.

Lawmakers including some Senate Republicans have said there were no legitimate grounds to circumvent Congress, which has the right to disapprove arms sales.

Last month Senator Lindsey Graham delivered a stinging rebuke of the arms sales and Riyadh, saying he hoped the vote would "send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you're acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship."

The senator was referring to last year's brutal murder of Khashoggi in Turkey at the hands of Saudi agents, an incident that triggered a full-blown crisis in Riyadh's relations with the West.

But Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the resolutions as "dangerous" at a time Iran is expanding its reach.

"Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East," he said in a statement.

"If we allow them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign, and the security of our allies, like Israel, will be threatened," he added.

Hamas targeted

And Israel is surely pleased with the following story from Yemen this week.

A Palestinian man was killed at a check point in the central Yemeni province of Marib, Hamas said earlier this week, with reports claiming he was killed by Emirati intelligence personnel.

The Palestinian group said in a statement on Saturday that Ahmad Maarouf had been "killed in cold blood" a day earlier.

"Hamas mourns its martyr who lived in Yemen for over 15 years and calls on Yemeni security services to investigate the incident," the statement said. 

Pro-Hamas media have reported that the 36-year-old charity worker and imam was killed after being abducted and tortured by Emirati intelligence personnel.

Citing Maarouf's family members, the reports said Emirati intelligence arrested him over links to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked movement, which the United Arab Emirates classifies a terror group.

The UAE has been a key player in the Saudi-led coalition which intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to back the internationally-recognised government against the Houthi rebels.

Since then, tens of thousands of people - mostly civilians - have been killed in the conflict which has left the impoverished country on the brink of famine.

Last year, Amnesty International said human rights violations in a string of UAE-run prisons in Yemen could amount to war crimes.

Last week, Yemen in Focus took a look at Emirati plans to reduce the number of troops in the war-torn country, shifting from a military to a 'peace-first' strategy, despite establishing a militias designed to undermine the government.


Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

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