At the halfway point of the year, less than 40 percent of Yemen’s requested US$702 million Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) has reached aid groups, signalling a potential repeat of last year’s shortfall in which donors funded 56 percent of a $585 million budget appeal.
The 190 relief projects outlined in this year’s YHRP represent a threefold expansion in humanitarian programming since 2011, when Arab Spring-inspired uprisings pushed 32-year president Ali Abdullah Saleh from office and eventually put the country on a two-year political reform process, scheduled to culminate in national elections in early 2014.
But donor pledges have not kept pace with expanding NGO coverage and demands for bigger budgets - a development which is forcing aid groups to scale back or close down projects.
Last September in the northwestern town of Haradh close to the border with Saudi Arabia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stopped large-scale voluntary return flights for thousands of undocumented Ethiopian migrants stranded in the impoverished town.
This year a $5.5 million IOM programme facilitating the emergency return of 6,000 vulnerable migrants in Haradh is only 13 percent funded, while a $1.7 million sister programme assisting migrant children has received no funds.
The most urgent of IOM’s three projects in Haradh, a $1.1 million emergency health and psychosocial care operation, which has recently had to handle some 2,000 mostly Ethiopian migrants liberated from smuggling and trafficking gangs, is 58 percent funded.
East of Haradh near the western frontier of Sa’dah Governorate, Médecins Sans Frontières-Spain (MSF-S) is phasing out a hospital for migrants and some 12,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in al-Mazraq Camps I and III, who fled fighting in the decade-long conflict between government forces and the minority Zaydi Shia Houthi movement based in Sa’dah.
“MSF is the only institution that has professional psychologists,” according to Basel Mousa, who works for the UN Refugee Agency in Haradh. “But the project is phasing out because al-Mazraq is no longer considered an `emergency’ situation.”
Discussions are ongoing between the World Health Organization (WHO), Yemen’s Ministry of Health and other partners to keep the hospital’s operations going, but no deal has been reached.
In the south of the country, in Abyan Governorate, fighting between government forces and al-Qaeda militants displaced some 237,000 Yemenis and damaged the livelihoods of another 200,000 in 2011.
“Life-saving humanitarian activities have increased in areas of return in southern Yemen, especially in Abyan, but funding shortfalls are preventing humanitarian partners from moving beyond life-saving interventions to support early recovery and resilience-building for returnees,” according to OCHA’s May Humanitarian Bulletin.
Two of Yemen’s four “life-saving” clusters - Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Health - remain significantly underfunded at the mid-year point. According to UN financial records, Health cluster funding stands at 19.3 percent of a requested $59 million, while only 18.3 percent of WASH’s $66 million budget is available.
WASH cluster partners received 44 percent funding in 2012, “permitting only basic programming and limiting the response to only half of the targeted population,” the 2013 YHRP states.
Continued underfunding in the WASH sector in 2013, warns the report, “will increase the risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea [which] can be particularly fatal among children suffering from malnutrition”.
“Under-funding in the Health cluster” may intensify these risks, according to WHO's Mohammad Dauod Altaf, the Health cluster coordinator in Yemen.
“The main effects will be reduced service-provision to vulnerable populations, thus resulting in a potential increase in cases of communicable diseases, including water-borne and vector-borne diseases, as well as lack of service to injured individuals.”
Altaf pointed to three Health cluster projects tailored to internally displaced women in Hajjah, Hudeidah and Aden governorates, none of which has received any funding so far this year.
Yet while the funding of life-saving clusters leaves room for improvement, recovery and resilience-building efforts are worse off.
To date, agencies working on Early Recovery have secured the least funding of Yemen’s 11 clusters, with just 8.3 percent.
In the absence of humanitarian aid, vulnerable populations often adapt in ways that deepen the crisis.
“Negative coping mechanisms such as falling into debt, child labour and child marriages mean the crisis could further corrode Yemen's long-term development unless short-term measures are put in place,” according to the 2013 YHRP.
The accumulation of stranded migrants in Haradh, for example, at once increases the burden on host communities and helps illicit smuggling and trafficking that has become entrenched in this economically devastated region.
A military official who orchestrated the recent crackdown on smuggling camps in Haradh since April told IRIN that officials in Sana’a had placed a moratorium on further raids, in part because of difficulties providing support for freed migrants.
Meanwhile, 6,000-7,000 migrants are entering Yemen each month, many of them en route to Saudi Arabia via Haradh, and there is “no sign that the influx of migrants will abate”, according to IOM.
Sustainable improvement in humanitarian conditions will require political stability - something many hope will be the end result of the country’s current national dialogue process and transition to fresh elections.