(Reuters) – A stampede in Yemen, as hundreds gathered at a school to collect cash donations for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, killed 78 people in a war-torn country where two-thirds of the population depends on humanitarian aid.
Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, is grappling with one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, which the United Nations has called an eight-year war that has divided the country and destroyed its economy and infrastructure.
The conflict, which has killed tens of thousands, pits a Saudi-led military coalition against the Iran-allied Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen after ousting the internationally recognized government from the capital, Sana’a.
The Houthis blame the import-dependent country’s lack of basic necessities on a coalition sea and air blockade on the ports and airport of Sana’a, which was eased under last year’s expired United Nations-brokered ceasefire agreement, which is still in effect .
The Houthis have been criticized by humanitarian organizations for obstructing aid movements, which has also raised concerns from donor nations.
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In 2023, around 21 million people, or two-thirds of Yemen’s population, will be in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, according to the United Nations.
The World Food Program said in February the number of people living in starvation-like conditions fell from 161,000 to zero over the past year, but warned gains could be reversed.
The United Nations Humanitarian Plan calls for $4.3 billion this year to reach the 17 million most vulnerable people. Last month, a UN official said only $1.16 billion had been pledged so far by crisis-stricken donors, the lowest sum raised for Yemen since 2017.
Underfunding has led agencies to scale back aid projects.
More than 14 million people are in acute need. An estimated 4.5 million people, including 2 million children, are displaced, most of whom have been forced to move multiple times.
The conflict has devastated Yemen’s economy and the national poverty rate was estimated at around 80% in 2022, according to the United Nations. Most public sector employees have not been paid consistently for years.
Acute food insecurity in Yemen is caused by rising food prices and dwindling livelihoods and economic opportunities.
Competing monetary policies of the internationally recognized southern-based government and the Houthis have led to divergent exchange rates of the Yemeni rial.
The expired ceasefire agreement has brought relief, bringing a year of relative calm and facilitating the flow of food, fuel and other merchant vessels into Hodeidah’s main port.
The war has destroyed basic infrastructure and services.
Millions of children lack access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, and the country is vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, including those that are vaccine-preventable.
According to a UN report last year, only 54% of health facilities in the country were fully operational.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams)
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