Last Updated: Wed May 23, 2012 12:22 pm (KSA) 09:22 am (GMT)

Saudi Arabia pledges $3.25b as aid groups warn of ‘catastrophic food crisis’ in Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has announced a $3.25 billion aid package to Yemen. (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has announced a $3.25 billion aid package to Yemen. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia will give its impoverished neighbor Yemen aid worth $3.25 billion, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a meeting in Riyadh on Wednesday.

“To ensure Yemen’s security and stability, the kingdom will provide $3.25 billion to support development projects there which will be agreed upon with the Yemeni side,” he said at the opening of the Friends of Yemen meeting.

Two days after nearly 100 Yemeni soldiers were killed in an attack claimed by al-Qaeda, the donor group of Western and Arab Gulf nations met in Riyadh on Wednesday to see how they can help Yemen push ahead with reforms and tackle its poverty and lawlessness, as aid groups warned that Yemen was on the brink of a “catastrophic food crisis.”

The group have been discussing political developments since president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in February, his 33-year rule in the Arabian Peninsula state ended after nearly a year of protests.

“We see key outcomes from this meeting focusing on types of concrete assistance the group can give to support the Yemeni government's plans for long-term reform,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman, according to Reuters.

“The group also aims to discuss immediate ways it can help address the worsening humanitarian situation.”

Yemen’s government lost control over large swathes of the country during the past year as the political crisis caused splits in the military and tribes were angered by U.S. drone attacks on suspected militants.

Western countries and Yemen’s neighbors have watched with alarm as al-Qaeda established a strong presence in areas controlled by Islamist militias, allowing the group to plan attacks outside the country.

Monday’s assault on a military parade in Sanaa, which killed 96 soldiers and wounded more than 300 others, came only weeks after Washington said Western and Arab intelligence agencies had foiled an al-Qaeda airline bomb plot hatched in Yemen.

Wednesday’s meeting is the group’s first since Saleh stepped down to allow the election of a new president, Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, in February for a two-year transition period.

Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa and Planning and International Cooperation Minister Mohammed al-Saadi are expected to attend the Riyadh meeting, which is co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Britain.

Countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, are likely to be attending, as are the United States, the European Union, France, Egypt and Russia.

In April the International Monetary Fund resumed lending to Yemen, approving the payment of a $93.7 million loan to help the country address a balance of payments deficit that worsened during the political turmoil.

Saadi said in February that about $3 billion of aid that was pledged by the “Friends of Yemen” in 2006 had still not been delivered.

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.

“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, according to AFP.

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 have 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 U.N. 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.

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