The United Nations has been forced to request additional aid from donors for humanitarian programs in Yemen. Even though $2.4 billion was requested, just $1.35 billion was pledged. However, the organization reports that only 47% of the pledged funds have actually been received. Representatives from the UN are calling on donor countries to provide their promised contributions immediately or they will need to close 30 of their 41 assistance programs.
The war-ravaged nation is now additionally burdened by COVID-19. International organizations warned months ago that the healthcare system in Yemen was not well-equipped to handle the pandemic. Even before the outbreak, the UN estimates that 24 million Yemenis—80% of the population—depend on some sort of humanitarian aid. Yemeni citizen, Amjad Ali, tells Al Jazeera, “The whole world is scared of the coronavirus, except for Yemen. We here have become accustomed to death.”
The main question here is why the UN, the largest humanitarian organization in the world, has received so little support from donors that they are forced to take such a drastic action in Yemen. The New York Times claims that the pledged amount was so much lower than anticipated because of suspicions that “the Houthis, the Iran-backed armed group that controls northern Yemen, were interfering with aid distributed in their territory.” While this may be true, the main concern is not the conflict itself, but that the systems in place both inside the United Nations and among donor nations are not organized in such a way that promotes accountability and efficiency.
In a meeting of the UN General Assembly last October, the financial problems within the United Nations were openly discussed. The budgetary committee “voiced their concerns over the worsening cash flow problems enveloping the organization’s regular budget and stressed the need to give the world body a sounder financial foundation.” In the meeting, member states debated, passing the blame around. Many states had yet to pay their legally required dues to the main UN budget, which provides funding for staff and core programs. The report goes on to explain, “Delegates agreed that the trend of the Organization’s limited financial liquidity can no longer be ignored, with some pointing the finger at the United States as largely to blame for the lack of cash on hand.”
Fellow member states are correct to criticize the United States and their role in the funding issues. In 2018, the U.S. contributed 22% of the administrative budget of the UN, and 28% of the peacekeeping budget, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. When they do not pay their dues on time, there are staffing issues in New York and it deals a blow to the reputation of the organization as a whole. When they do not pay their planned amounts in voluntary funding such as in Yemen, people die. As such a large donor, fluctuation in funding from the United States hurt programs immensely.
The Trump administration has shown disdain for international organizations and agreements; announcing departure from the World Health Organization in May. President Trump’s 2021 budget proposal includes severe cuts in aid to UN peacekeeping efforts, amounting in close to half a billion dollars.
The United Nations asks for budget reports and funding projections every year, and has to navigate the fluctuations in commitments and varying schedules of all member countries. This system is not working, and people will soon suffer. The organization supplies desperately needed aid all over the world, and this aid should not be subject to the whims of constantly changing administrations. Budgets should be set for a longer period of time, with emergency funds for situations such as the current pandemic. Member states must recognize the importance and necessity of the organization and make it exempt to the consequences of domestic squabbles.
Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, explains the desperate need for increased funding. “When money doesn’t come, people die… All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.” She explains the organization is well-organized, hindered only by financial issues, “This is the largest humanitarian operation in the world addressing the worst humanitarian crisis. When we receive funding we make a huge difference.”