The UN appealed Tuesday for $4 billion to cover humanitarian needs in Yemen in 2019 – its largest country appeal ever – and announced its first appeal related to Venezuela, calling for $738 million to help those who have fled the country’s economic meltdown and health crisis.
The UN appeal to help some 2.2 million Venezuelans living in neighbouring South American countries was one of 31 humanitarian response plans released for 2019 by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, in an overall $21.9 billion donor funding request.
The total price tag is swollen by Yemen, where the UN’s call to help 15 million people is the largest country appeal in the UN’s history. The equivalent appeal for aid within Syria was $3.64 billion in 2018, while costs for Syrian refugees across multiple countries was an additional $5.6 billion.
Intensifying conflict and displacement, hunger, irregular imports, and a macro-economic crunch have driven 24 million people – nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s population – into need, and half of those may require food assistance in the months ahead, according to the UN.
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said “the extreme edge could get taken off the suffering” in Yemen if peace talks and the military outlook improve, but the UN planning is looking at “what the situation will actually be, rather than wishful thinking”.
Vittorio Infante, humanitarian advocacy advisor for the NGO Islamic Relief, said that given the scale of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, especially in the province of Hodeidah where recent fighting has made conditions worse, the UN’s record ask was merited.
“$4 billion is a lot of money, but this pales in comparison to the dire need in Yemen, where [the majority] of the population are relying on humanitarian aid to survive,” Infante told IRIN.
“Our staff in Hodeidah are helping people with literally nothing left because they have sold all their belongings just to make sure that their families are fed. However, as long as this conflict continues, this amount will merely be a plaster on a fragile humanitarian situation.”
The Venezuelan appeal, meanwhile, is set to help Colombia and other host countries, but it does not cover needs inside Venezuela, where the government resists any labelling of events as a humanitarian crisis.
A UN-managed emergency fund released $9.2 million to UN agencies to step up humanitarian-related responses within Venezuela in November.
“People describe what’s going on in different ways,” Lowcock told IRIN, referring to Venezuela’s reluctance to term it a humanitarian crisis, adding that inside the country the UN is only “trying to scale up our support” and expand its “normal activity”.
In Geneva to launch the package, dubbed the Global Humanitarian Overview, Lowcock said the UN and its NGO and governmental partners had drawn up plans to help 93.6 million people in 2019 – about one in 70 of the world population. The number of people in need and the value of total appeals would be about the same as in 2018, reaching a price tag of around $25 billion once Syria’s plan was completed, he said.
Syria’s response plan is as yet uncosted. Lowcock said finishing it was delayed until February while the UN attempts to gather fresh data on needs inside the country. The update will require Syrian government flexibility on in-country surveys and access to boost the credibility and data behind funding requests – a measure demanded by donors on which Lowcock has been seeking Damascus’ cooperation.
According to OCHA, a number of situations around the world have eased this year, including in Burundi, Iraq, and Somalia. Others have improved and no longer require emergency plans: Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal.
But some situations have worsened. in Cameroon, the number of people in need has jumped 77 percent thanks to a brewing civil war, while Afghanistan’s appeal, due in part to conflict and drought, is 41 percent higher.
A third category contains countries where the situation remains serious but relatively unchanged: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan.
UN-coordinated humanitarian response plans are a compendium of projects from UN agencies and NGOs on the assistance they will provide, such as supplying food, running clinics, providing clean water, and setting up shelter.
Even though they are presented as meeting only the highest priority needs, the plans are, on average, only 56 percent funded in 2018. Some emergencies struggle to capture donor interest (Haiti got only 11.2 percent of the requested funding), while others, like Afghanistan and Iraq, which command greater international attention, tend to do better.
Separately on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced its 2019 emergency appeal, for 2.1 billion Swiss Francs, for which Syria, South Sudan, and Iraq are the largest country operations.
(TOP PHOTO: Displaced families from Hodeidah receive UNHCR assistance in Bajil district, Hodeidah province, Yemen. CREDIT: Haitham al-Akhali/UNHCR)