World

Canada pledges $47M in aid at conference on Yemen

As nations gather in Geneva at a United Nations conference on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Canadian government says it is pledging $46.7 million in aid.

Canadian commitment will go to urgent supplies and needs of women and girls

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres welcomed increased donor commitments compared to at a similar point last year but said the situation in Yemen is a 'crisis of devastating proportions.' (Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA-EFE)

As nations gathered Tuesday in Geneva at a United Nations conference on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Canadian government said it is pledging $46.7 million in aid.

"Canada's support in Yemen is driven by our desire to end a terrible situation that has caused the suffering of so many people — especially women and children who bear the brunt of the crisis," Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of international development, said in a statement.

"The human cost of the ongoing conflict in Yemen is dire."

The nearly five-year war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, and ensuing economic collapse have left 16 million facing severe hunger. While a deadly cholera epidemic in 2017 was stalled, aid agencies say the threat still remains due to water supply and sanitation concerns.

Canada has previously committed $130 million in aid for Yemen overall since 2015.

Canada said it will continue to work with UN agencies and the Red Cross to provide urgently needed food, medicine and clean water, there would also be a focus on "the urgent needs of women and girls, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services."

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement Tuesday that children were particularly at risk, with 80 per cent in need of humanitarian assistance and 360,000 under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

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Saudi Arabia is leading the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis to try to restore Hadi's government, which was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.

Saudi Arabia announced a $500 million US contribution at the Geneva pledging conference while the U.S. delegation promised $24 US million.

Progress stalled at Hodeidah

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said Tuesday pledges had reached $2.6 billion US, a 30 per cent increase on the amount pledged at a similar donors conference last year.

Calling it a "crisis of devastating proportions" in his opening remarks at the conference, Guterres also cited Yemen's acceptance of Somali refugees in the years before its own crisis.

"I think that this extreme generosity of Yemenis needs to be corresponded to the generosity of the international community to support a people that deserves, that fully deserves, our full solidarity and commitment," he said.

If there isn't implementation of Stockholm, we're not back to square one, we're back to square minus one.- Michael Aron, British ambassador to Yemen

A truce that came into force on Dec. 18 at meetings in Sweden has largely held despite skirmishes on the city's outskirts, but Guterres admitted Tuesday progress has been slow in implementing a troop withdrawal in Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions facing starvation.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement controls the Red Sea city, now a focus of the war, while other Yemeni factions backed by a Saudi-led coalition loyal to the ousted government are massed on the edges. Both sides were meant to redeploy forces by Jan. 7 and a timeline announced last week was also missed.

A team of the UN and the World Food Program visit mills in Hodeidah on Tuesday, a welcoming sign to secretary general Antonio Guterres. (EPA-EFE)

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Tuesday to salvage the deal.

Michael Aron, Britain's ambassador to Yemen, told Reuters in Geneva he hoped the withdrawal would take place this week.

"It really has to happen .... If there isn't implementation of Stockholm, we're not back to square one, we're back to square minus one," he said.

The deal aimed to reopen humanitarian corridors and avert a full-scale assault by the coalition to seize Hodeidah port, the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's commercial and aid imports.

Such an offensive could disrupt supply lines, risking a mass famine in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation, which is grappling with the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis.

Guterres announced that a UN team on Tuesday visited a grains facility caught on a frontline where the World Food Programme has enough wheat to feed 3.7 million Yemenis for a month.

"For the first time in six months, finally it was possible for us to reach the so-called Red Sea mills..." he said. "So at least slowly some progress is being made."

Western nations have pressed for an end to the war following increased scrutiny after the murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, with U.S. Congress rebuking the administration's support for the Saudi coalition.

The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny receiving help from Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.

With files from CBC News