War-torn Yemen is once again on the brink of famine as donor funds that averted catastrophe just 18 months ago have dried up, the country’s UN humanitarian coordinator said.
With much of the country dependent on aid, a coronavirus pandemic raging unchecked, and countless children already facing starvation, Lise Grande said that millions of vulnerable families could quickly move from “being able to hold on to being in free fall.”
The United Nations raised only around half the required $2.41 billion in aid for Yemen at a June donor conference co-hosted by Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition backing the internationally recognised government against Huthi rebels who control much of the north.
Yemen is already gripped by what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands killed, an estimated four million people displaced by war and 80 percent of the country’s 29 million people dependent on aid for their survival.
Grande said in an interview from Sanaa that critical programmes providing sanitation, healthcare and food were already closing down because of a lack of cash, just as the economic situation is looking “scarily similar” to the darkest days of the crisis.
A critical fuel shortage, for which the Huthis and the government are trading blame, is now threatening the operation of the electricity grid, water supply, and key infrastructure like hospitals.
“Ships aren’t being allowed to bring in life-saving commodities, the currency is depreciating very quickly. The central bank is out of money. The price of a basic food basket… has increased by 30 percent in just the past few weeks alone,” Grande said.
“We’re seeing the same factors driving the country towards famine that we saw before. We don’t have the resources we need to fight it and roll it back this time. It’s something to be profoundly worried about.”
– Empty promises? – Saudi Arabia emerged as the biggest donor at the June event, pledging $500 million. Britain and the United States, both major weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia, also stepped in with large packages.
However, Grande said that only nine of the 31 donors had actually provided the funds — a pattern that the UN has sounded alarm over before, and which will worsen as the world sinks into a coronavirus-induced recession.
“It’s very clear that the COVID pandemic has put pressure on assistance budgets all over the world … They’re just not going to be able to do what they’ve done previously. And the impact of that is going to be very significant, very severe,” she said.
Yemen has so far officially recorded some 1,300 cases of the disease, with 359 fatalities, but testing is scant, most clinics are ill-equipped to determine causes of death and there are ominous signs that the real toll is much higher.
Modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates there could have been over one million coronavirus infections by last month, and that 85,000 people could die in a worst-case scenario.
But as the country’s needs escalate, the ability to meet them has diminished.
– Programmes cut – Grande said that in the next few days, the UN faced the “unbelievable situation” of having to stop providing fuel to hospitals as well as water supply and sanitation systems across the country.
The World Food Programme, which has been providing staples to 13 million people, has had to scale back with deliveries to only about 8.5-8.7 million people per month, and many of those have been put on half rations.
And the week the coronavirus crisis started, the WHO ran out of funds to pay 10,000 public health workers across the country.
A year and a half ago when Yemen last stood on the brink, the situation was very different.
The central bank was recapitalised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — then an active partner in the coalition — paid schoolteachers’ salaries, the currency was stabilised and commodity imports were supported.
“Eighteen months ago, we were one of the best-funded humanitarian operations in the world,” Grande said.
“The country is right back where it was. The difference is that now we don’t have the resources we need in order to push it back.”
The US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani was “unlawful”, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings concluded in a report released Tuesday.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded it was an “arbitrary killing” that violated the UN charter.
The US had provided no evidence that an imminent attack against US interest was being planned, she wrote.
The independent rights expert does not speak for the United Nations but reports her findings to it.
Her report on targeted killings through armed drones — around half of which deals with the Soleimani case — is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Thursday.
The United States withdrew from the council in 2018.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.
Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.
Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the drone strike.
“In light of the evidence that the US has provided to date, the targeting of General Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing for which, under IHRL (international human rights law), the US is responsible,” Callamard said in her report.
‘No evidence’ imminent attack planned
She said the strike violated the UN Charter, with “insufficient evidence provided of an ongoing or imminent attack,” she wrote.
“No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified,” Callamard said.
“No evidence has been provided that a drone strike in a third country was necessary or that the harm caused to that country was proportionate to the harm allegedly averted.
“Soleimani was in charge of Iran’s military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful.”
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief in Iran.
Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq. While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad killed no US soldiers, dozens suffered brain trauma.
Callamard’s report addresses targeted killings through armed drones, in light of the proliferation in drone use and their expanding capability over the last five years.
It makes recommendations designed to regulate their use and enhance accountability.
Callamard said that while incidents like the killing of Soleimani and the September 2019 hit on Saudi Arabia’s oil processing facilities generated strong political reactions, “the vast majority of targeted killings by drones are subjected to little public scrutiny”.
Drone technologies and drone attacks were generating fundamental challenges to international legal standards, she added.
The United States says it has withdrawn its funding for the United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA), an agency which promotes family planning in more than 150 countries.
According to the State Department, the agency supports and participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation.
Earlier this year, President Trump had reinstated a ban on U.S. funding of any international organization that provided any kind of abortion service or advice.
Meanwhile, the agency has called the claims “Erroneous”, saying that all of its work promotes the rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.
The U.S. State Department further stated that the money allocated to the agency will be “Transferred and reprogrammed to the Global Health Programs account, which will be used by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health activities in developing countries.
This is the first of the promised cuts to U.S. financial contributions to the UN by the Trump administration.
Hundreds of Nigerians, who fled Boko Haram in Borno State, have returned to devastated towns and villages in recent days after the army seized back the militant group’s last remaining strongholds.
This is according to the United Nations, which also warns that families will return to find their homes and farmland destroyed, basic services wiped out and will live under the persistent threat of attacks by the jihadist group.
Spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Mr. Leo Dobbs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that healthcare, agriculture, and security services are in ruin after around two years of Boko Haram rule.
He adds that in the last week, buses organised by the Borno State government have begun transporting people from the capital, Maiduguri, to the newly accessible areas, with others are returning by their own means.
“Many of the areas they are going back to have been completely devastated,” said Dobbs.
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said last month nearly half a million children were at risk of ‘severe acute malnutrition’ in the area around Lake Chad that has been ravaged by Boko Haram.
Despite the Nigerian army’s success in driving Boko Haram out of occupied territory that 18 months ago was the size of Belgium, the militants still manage to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Since 2009, more than 15,000 people have been killed, 2.3 million displaced due to Boko Haram activities in Nigeria.
The Senate has mandated its Committee on States and Local Governments to investigate the demarcation of the boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon in Boki Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State.
The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, brought a motion on the floor of the Senate warning of an impending border crisis between Nigeria and Cameroon if the matter was not addressed.
Senator Ndoma- Egba said that there was anxiety in the area over the recent activities of the Joint Technical Team of the Nigeria Cameroon Mixed Commission, who went to Danare and Biajua communities in Boki, Cross Rivers State, aided by Nigerian soldiers to arbitrarily enforce demarcation of the boundary between the two countries.
Senate President, David Mark, however, cautioned that the Senate needs to investigate the matter before making any resolution on the boundary demarcation exercise.
The demarcation of boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon by the United Nations (UN), if approved, could cede about eight local governments to Cameroon.
An educationist, Abiola Awosika on Tuesday urged the federal government to dedicate 35 per cent of its budget to education to ensure that the country meets the international educational standard.
Speaking during a programme on Channels Television, the education professor said she had written an academic article in 1992, recommending that 25 per cent of Nigeria’s budget be dedicated to education because “we had a shortfall and we needed to catch up with the rest of the world”.
“So if the United Nations (UN) is recommending 26 per cent today, we need to be at may be 35 or 36 per cent of our budget going into education” noting that “if we do that, we will be able to move our universities up” she said.
She further advocated for a shift in the mode of learning saying “I keep saying that technology is the way to go. E-learning”.
She recounted the visit of former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s visit to Nigeria, where he also, according to her, told the National Universities Commission (NUC) and “told them categorically that e-learning is the only way that we are going to be saved in this country”.
She however noted that “a lot of our universities are in the fore front of that” listing “Obafemi Awolowo University (Ife), Ahmadu Bello University (Zaria), University of Ibadan (Ibadan)” as universities that “are trying to do something different so that we can get different results”.
Despite canvassing for financial autonomy for Nigerian universities, she noted that “we have to also think about the economy that we are in” expressing dismay that Nigerians pay overseas and don’t want to pay in Nigeria.
She further noted that over N60 billion is paid to Ghana by Nigerians who go there to study annually.
Professor ABiola Awosika is also the Rector of Olawoyin Awosika School of Innovative Studies (OASIS), Isheri-Lagos.