Donors, with Saudi Arabia in the lead, pledged $4 billion (3.2 billion euros) in aid to impoverished Yemen on Wednesday as it grapples with a fragile political transition and struggles to contain a growing threat by Al-Qaeda.
“The conference today has allocated $4 billion dollars,” Britain’s junior foreign minister, Alistair Burt, said at the end of the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh, saying London would contributed $44 million.
At the opening of the meeting, Saudi Arabia said it would give neighbouring Yemen $3.25 billion, and urged other nations to follow suit.
“To ensure Yemen’s security and stability, the kingdom will provide $3.25 billion to support development projects there which will be agreed upon with the Yemeni side,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said.
“The Yemeni government is exerting courageous efforts, but without the help of its brothers and friends, Yemen will not be able to solve the crises it is facing,” said Prince Saud, who described the meeting as “positive.”
Support for Yemen “includes providing expertise and help in all fields including economy, security and military,” he said.
Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa pleaded for aid for his country, rocked by an uprising last year that forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in February.
“The hope is in the political and economic support needed to overcome the transitional period and put an end to the budget deficit,” Basindawa said.
“We are confident that you realise the danger and sensitivity of the situation in Yemen which needs lots and lots to recover … We seek your help; don’t fail us.”
Yemeni Planning Minister Mohammed al-Saadi had told AFP his country will ask for about $10 billion in urgent aid at the meeting.
So far only 43 percent of $455 million earlier asked for by the UN and other organisations has been received for humanitarian aid for Yemen, with ongoing conflicts in the country’s north and south only exacerbating the crisis.
Prince Saud said two agreements “worth $105 million will be signed in the health and power sectors” on Wednesday, adding that Riyadh had also recently provided support to Yemen’s petrol and power sectors.
Basindawa said his government is planning development projects that needed funds and were part of a 2012-2013 programme aimed at reviving the economy and stabilising the security, political and social situation.
“The plan includes several projects in the fields of economy, politics, humanitarian assistance and reforms,” said Basindawa.
On Wednesday, seven aid groups warned diplomats that Yemen was on the brink of a “catastrophic food crisis” and urged them to bolster efforts to salvage the situation.
At least 10 million people, some 44 percent of the population, do not get “enough food to eat”, they said, adding that one in three children was “severely malnourished.”
Saadi told AFP on Wednesday that there “is an urgent humanitarian need estimated at $470 million to help more than 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Abyan and Saada” provinces in the south and north.
He said investment projects “important as they are, can be postponed, but not humanitarian aid.”
In the past two months alone, aid agencies say more than 95,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, bringing the total number to more than half a million.
Twenty-seven countries, including the six oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council states, the United States and Britain, as well as international organisations, are attending the Riyadh meeting, the first since President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi took power on February 21.
In addition to poverty, Hadi’s rule is challenged by a growing threat of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by the United States as the most active branch of the global terror network.
“Security and stability are necessary for development” in Yemen, Prince Saud said.
Burt, who described the role of GCC states in Yemen as “remarkable and significant,” said: “We should not underestimate what was achieved in Yemen.”
On Monday, a suicide bomber dressed as a soldier, detonated explosives among soldiers of an army battalion in central Sanaa, killing 96 soldiers of them, in an attack claimed by AQAP.
“The appalling explosion that took place in Yemen and left hundreds martyred and wounded needs utmost attention from you to Yemen,” Basindawa said.
As the meeting took place, the army pressed on in south Yemen an offensive against Al-Qaeda bastions leaving six Yemeni soldiers and 22 jihadists dead Wednesday, a security official and locals said.
That raised the death toll from the operations to 262 people killed in 12 days.
The Friends of Yemen forum was set up at an international conference in London in January 2010 to help Sanaa combat a resurgent threat from Al-Qaeda in the ancestral homeland of its slain leader, Osama bin Laden, as well as other security challenges.