UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The $274 million that Saudi Arabia promised months ago to fund a U.N. emergency aid appeal for Yemen hasn't arrived because the kingdom and the world body are still discussing the terms of the funding, while aid groups begin to warn that people trapped by the conflict are on the brink of starvation.
The U.N. humanitarian chief this week warned that the delay is causing significant pain as the world body and aid groups use their own stretched financial resources to make up for money they had expected Saudi Arabia to provide.
"Much has already been spent by U.N. agencies and their partners advancing their own funds in expectations of the original Saudi pledge of $274 million being forthcoming," Stephen O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council. "Additional resources are urgently needed, now."
Saudi Arabia in early May announced that it would completely fund a "flash" appeal of $274 million for the Yemen crisis.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is leading a U.S.-supported coalition delivering airstrikes on Houthi rebels who hold large parts of neighboring Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.
Aid workers have expressed concern that Saudi Arabia has asked for restrictions on the $274 million to keep the Houthis from benefiting from the aid. The U.N. will not confirm that.
On Thursday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, told reporters that memoranda of understanding between Saudi Arabia and various U.N. agencies remain to be signed, and that discussions continue. Spokespeople for the U.N. humanitarian office and the World Food Program also did not comment on the terms under discussion.
Saudi Arabia's U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, told reporters on Tuesday that the agreements were still being completed, with no explanation of the delay.
O'Brien, who plans to visit Yemen in the coming weeks, has said the U.N.'s overall humanitarian aid appeal of $1.6 billion for the country is only 15 percent funded.
The shortage of aid funding, compounded by a months-long sea and air blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, has left a large majority of Yemen's 26 million people with shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies, O'Brien said.
"The impact of this conflict on civilians is indeed catastrophic," O'Brien told the council. He said more than 21 million people need humanitarian assistance. "Some aid agencies are now using the term starvation to describe the situation of those most food insecure," he said.
International aid group Oxfam on Tuesday estimated that more than 6 million Yemenis are on the verge of starving.
Efforts at humanitarian pauses in Yemen to deliver aid have failed, with the most recent attempt announced by the Saudi-led coalition quickly falling apart early Monday.