Abs, Yemen — The doctors and nurses at the malnutrition ward in Abs Hospital are used to scrambling — there is rarely enough time in the day to see the number of emaciated children that come in. But things have never been quite this bad.
In the past few months, the power has dropped out daily and high fuel prices mean they can’t always keep their generators going. When that happens, their monitors and ventilators switch off. Children who could have been saved, die.
“Those who aren’t killed by the airstrikes or this war? They will die from shortages in medical supplies,” Dr. Ali Al Ashwal tells CNN at the hospital in Hajjah, northwest of the capital, Sanaa.
In March, the Trump administration and the US’ key regional allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, slashed their funding to the United Nations’ appeal for Yemen. The funding cuts mean reduced health care services for Yemeni civilians, with some forced to close. They have also forced aid agencies to stretch food assistance thin.
This state of affairs is evident at Abs Hospital. In the first half of the year, it received nearly 700 patients suffering from malnutrition. In August, the case load was double the average monthly total, according to hospital staff.
“Our clinic usually takes between 100 and 150 cases in a month, and in one month we have received approximately double the amount. While at the same time, medical supplies have decreased,” Dr. Al Ashwal said.
“The hardest part is when we lose a child when there could have been a chance for them to survive — if the situation was different.”
Those cuts have largely impacted areas in the north controlled by the Iran-backed Ansarullah — known as Houthi rebels — whom the US and several other donor nations accuse of interfering in humanitarian operations.
Despite the US’ sizeable cut in funding, it is still the biggest donor to the UN’s Yemen appeal.
A spokesperson for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) told CNN that the country would resume all operations in the Houthi-controlled north “when we are confident that our partners can deliver aid without undue Houthi interference and account for US assistance.”
The spokesperson pointed to unmet commitments from “other donors” as the reason for the funding shortfall among UN agencies in Yemen, saying “the United States encourages all donors, including those in the Gulf region, to contribute additional funding, to fulfill their 2020 pledges in a timely manner, and for all assistance to be provided according to humanitarian principles.”
Support pledged to the UN by Saudi Arabia for Yemen more than halved this year. In 2019, it delivered more than $1 billion, and this year it has pledged $500 million. The UN says that just $23 million of that money has come through its appeal.
A spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center told CNN the country had been ready to hand over the rest of the money in July but was now waiting to finalize agreements with the agencies “to ensure that the pledged amount is not diverted to other purposes outside of fulfilling the humanitarian needs.” Like the US, it cited concerns of appropriation of aid by the Houthi rebels.
“We expect that these agreements will be signed soon, and that the total remaining pledged amount will then be released immediately to the UN agencies and other international organizations,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also mentioned concerns about Houthi rebels obstructing and diverting aid. “As such, the UAE regularly evaluates the efficacy of its aid programs in Yemen and adjusts its approach accordingly. The UAE’s commitment to the Yemeni people is unwavering — the UAE will continue to be one of the largest donors to Yemen for as long as support is required,” they said.
All three countries have donated tens of millions of dollars and other aid to Yemen through other channels outside of the appeal.
The UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told CNN on Monday that while the Houthis’ obstruction is an issue, the funding crisis is having a far greater impact on the lives of Yemenis.
“What’s bringing people to the brink of starvation is the fact that we have no money. And I do think it’s particularly reprehensible for countries which were contributing last year, said they were contributing again…