AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

AP Exclusive: Aid from top donors drops even as need soars

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FILE – In this March 30, 2020, file photo, Venezuelan workers wearing protective face masks and suits as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus unload boxes of humanitarian aid as medical supplies and specialists from China arrive … more >

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By CARA ANNA

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – A new snapshot of the frantic global response to the coronavirus pandemic shows some of the world’s largest government donors of humanitarian aid are buckling under the strain: Funding commitments, for the virus and otherwise, have dropped by a third from the same period last year.

The analysis by the U.K.-based Development Initiatives, obtained in advance by The Associated Press, offers a rare real-time look at the notoriously difficult to track world of aid.

At a time when billions of people are struggling with the pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse – on top of long-running disasters like famine, drought or unrest – more, not less, money is urgently needed. New virus protection equipment must be bought for almost everything, from maternity wards in African villages to women’s shelters in Syrian refugee camps.

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“We have not seen substantial funding for COVID, yet the situation is going to get worse,” Rosalind Crowther, South Sudan country director for the aid group CARE, told the AP in May, saying “some donors have backtracked on earlier commitments.” The group runs two dozen health centers, more than 40 feeding centers and a safe house in one of the world’s most fragile countries following civil war.

In Somalia, a mother of twin baby boys told Amnesty International she had to give birth in her makeshift home in a camp for displaced people because no local health clinic was open. Aid workers told Amnesty researcher Abdullahi Hassan the newly reduced services were due to lack of funding.

“You can imagine how risky this is,” he told the AP.

During the first five months of this year, overall aid commitments from the largest government donors were $16.9 billion, down from $23.9 billion in the same period last year, according to the new analysis, which drew on data from the United States, the United Kingdom, European Union institutions, Germany, France, Canada and others.

Many of these donors – notably the U.K., whose aid commitments have dropped by nearly 50% from last year, according to the analysis – are struggling as their economies contract. The sheer magnitude of the crisis is another challenge as every part of the world needs help – and now.

The U.K. on Wednesday signaled more trouble, announcing it had identified $3.6 billion in cuts to planned overseas aid spending “so that we can react to the potential shrinkage in our economy.”

The reality on the ground could be even worse than the new analysis indicates: Crucially, it only shows promises of aid. Just how much of the billions of dollars pledged have reached those in need is not yet clear.

In some cases, the response to the pandemic has been alarmingly slow. In June, more than two dozen international aid groups wrote to the U.S. about its pledged coronavirus aid, saying that “little to no U.S. humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines” and calling the uncharacteristic delays “devastating.”

Their letter came as the U.S. promoted global leadership on the COVID-19 response with more than $1 billion committed. Aid groups are now waiting to see whether the U.S. will deliver millions of dollars this month as indicated.

This new analysis, like any measure of aid, is imperfect – it looks at data published to the International Aid Transparency Initiative, which is voluntary but widely used. It is also more current than other measures: The data was downloaded on July 10.

The drop in funding is keenly felt by aid groups on the ground.

A survey in May of 92 members of Bond, the U.K. network for nongovernmental organizations working in international development, found just 16% had received any new funding from the U.K.’s Department for International Development while fighting the pandemic in developing countries, and 41% were responding without any extra funding at all.

Some aid groups are warning the window to prevent the pandemic’s worst effects is narrowing while the global humanitarian response “remains woefully underfunded,” as Refugees International said last week.

Meanwhile, “we are concerned that we are seeing a repurposing of existing funds … rather than a release of new funding,” Selena Victor, Mercy Corps’ senior director for policy and advocacy, has said of the EU’s response.

An U.N.-run emergency delivery service that has kept tons of humanitarian aid flowing to scores of countries hurt by travel restrictions could shut down in the coming weeks because “there has been no significant funding” from donor countries, the World Food Program said. Just 19% of the $965 million request has come in.

While individual governments struggle, the largest so-called multilateral organizations including the World Bank and the Global Fund have stepped up, perhaps not yet affected by budget constraints.

Their commitments this year are $48.8 billion, or 70% greater than the same period last year, according to the analysis. That’s a positive sign but “must be sustainable to tackle the whole crisis,” according to the analysis.

The challenges remain vast as various streams of assistance, including remittances, falter. “All resources … are set to fall,” according to a separate new Development Initiatives report.

That drop could continue for months. Official development assistance – government aid for developing countries’ economic development and welfare – could shrink by almost $20 billion worldwide between last year and 2021 under a worst-case scenario that envisages an extended pandemic. The cuts could continue “as government assess domestic priorities,” that report says.

COVID-19 arrived in a world already facing a growing number of humanitarian crises, from Yemen to Myanmar to West Africa’s Sahel. Now the pandemic “threatens to create a funding vacuum,” the report says.

As of the end of June, it says, U.N.-coordinated calls for aid for this year were up 25% from last year because of additional needs created by the pandemic, reaching more than $37 billion.

Last week, the United Nations again increased its request for the pandemic response alone to $10.3 billion – the largest appeal in its history.

Only $1.7 billion has been received. Up to $40 billion might be needed.

“The response of wealthy nations so far has been grossly inadequate and dangerously short-sighted,” U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said. “Failure to act now will leave the virus free to circle ‘round the globe.”

___

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Yemen’s rebels crack down as COVID-19 and rumors spread

Yemen’s rebels crack down as COVID-19 and rumors spread

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In this May 2020 frame grab from video provided by a Yemeni activist, men in protective gear bury a victim of COVID-19, in the Houthi-controlled city of Ibb, Yemen. An investigation by The Associated Press found that the coronavirus is … more >

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By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

CAIRO (AP) — In the darkness, the bodies of suspected victims of coronavirus are carried in silence, one after the other, to be buried in several cemeteries across northern Yemen. Flashlights flicker as mourners make their way through the shadows.

The corpses are washed with disinfectants, wrapped in layers of plastic sheets and white linen before being laid to rest in 6-feet deep pits. There is no one around except for a handful of relatives in masks, gloves, and white gowns. Large gatherings are not permitted. Phones are not allowed.

Grave diggers and guards at the cemeteries are warned not to speak about the causes of the deaths. If asked, they are told to say that the dead are “unidentified bodies from the war,” according to several residents and one gravedigger. Families are never really told if their relatives died from the coronavirus, which is believed to be the culprit. Test results are never released. These daily funeral rituals come as social media are flooded with condolences and photographs of the dead.

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The coronavirus is spreading throughout Yemen, a county that has been devastated by five years of civil war. The fighting is between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north, and a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government.

The fighting has already killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions. Years of aerial bombings and intense ground fighting has destroyed thousands of buildings, leaving half of Yemen’s health facilities dysfunctional. About 18% of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families, especially among the millions displaced by fighting, can barely afford one meal a day.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the deadly toll of the war in Yemen, crippling a health system already in shambles with little capacity to test those suspected of having the virus. The country has no more than 500 ventilators and 700 ICU beds nationwide. There is one oxygen cylinder per month for every 2.5 million people.

The situation is exacerbated in the Houthi-controlled north, where the rebels have suppressed information about the virus, severely punished those who speak out, enforced little mitigation measures, and promoted conspiracies and claims by the Houthi minister of health that their scientists are working on developing a cure for COVID-19 to present to the world.

Officially, the rebels say that only four cases of coronavirus have been detected in the regions they control, but have resisted making the number of positive cases and deaths public.

“We don’t publish the numbers to the society because such publicity has a heavy and terrifying toll on people’s psychological health,” said Youssef al-Hadhari, spokesman for the Houthi health ministry, in response to questions by The Associated Press.

His comments come two months after Houthi Minister of Health Taha al-Motawakel painted a bleak picture of the country’s readiness to deal with the virus, saying that at some point Houthi officials will have to deal with 1 million people in need of hospital admissions in a two-month period. He told a parliament session that at one point, doctors will have to choose between whom to rescue and whom to let die.

This is “battlefield medicine,” he said.

The World Health Organization believes that there is a significant undercount of total number of people affected by the coronavirus outbreak, which officials say could further hinder efforts to get the medical supplies needed to contain the virus.

Richard Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director, told the AP that he believes the COVID-19 deaths are in the hundreds and cases are in the thousands, based on what he has heard from numerous health providers in Yemen.

Local health officials, aid workers, residents, and community activists who all spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the pandemic, say the situation in the war-torn country is worsening fast. Local unions, who have kept their own death tallies from the coronavirus, report that 46 medical staffers, 28 judges, and 13 lawyers died in a three-week period between mid-May and early June, well above the Houthis’ official count.

The lack of information about the true number of people infected by the coronavirus in Houthi-controlled areas has led to wild speculation about the nature of the disease and the rebel’s response to dealing with the infections and deaths has only added to the confusion.

One widely circulated rumor suggested Houthi rebels have instructed doctors to kill suspected COVID-19 patients with a “mercy injection.”

The rumor, which was given credibility because of a supposedly confidential document allegedly signed by the health minister, gained so much traction that Houthi leaders took the unusual step of issuing an official denial, calling the rumor “lies aimed at spreading fear.” The Houthis themselves have also spread rumors that the virus was spread by outsiders.

Some hospitals, like the Jibla hospital in the northern province of Ibb, one of the worst hit areas, have been called “injection hospitals” because of the high number of deaths happening there, residents and local activists said.

These rumors have caused widespread panic, and residents say they are less likely to notify health officials about suspected cases of COVID-19 .

“People don’t go to hospitals for fear of the mercy injection,” said a local activist, referring to the Jibla hospital. “We can’t tell the truth from the fallacy but I know many people who died in mysterious ways inside this hospital.”

A lawmaker in Sanaa told the AP that people are afraid to report coronavirus cases, fearing retaliation from Houthi officials.

“The suspected cases are treated like war criminals,” he said.

The lawmaker and a local activist from Ibb province said that the Houthis have gone through great lengths to contain information about the spread of COVID-19 in the rebel-controlled region.

At the Jibla hospital, which has has been turned into a COVID-19 isolation facility, the rebels have appointed a security supervisor to control the flow of information in and out of the hospital.

“He is the one in charge, meaning the head of the hospital himself is powerless in the face of this official. All staffers in the hospital fear him,” the activist said.

In a phone call with the AP, Abdullah al-Matari, the head of the hospital, declined to comment. He referred questions to the ministry’s top officials.

Residents said militiamen working as security personnel in the hospital also search visitors for phones and prevent them from carrying the devices inside the quarantine wards.

The Houthi information blackout extends beyond the hospitals. When a local activist posted a picture of an ambulance on social media of two medical workers in protective gear washing the vehicle in a pond, one of the men said they said they just finished transferring eight bodies to the cemetery named Jarraf.

When the picture went viral on social media, the man who spoke was interrogated and suspended from his job, the activist said. The AP could not independently verify his account.

In several cemeteries in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, burials occur almost daily, according to local residents and doctors.

Deaths from suspected coronavirus cases have surged to the point that, at the end of May, the Houthi religious endowment ministry, which is in charge of cemeteries, hung a sign on one of Sanaa’s largest cemeteries that read: “Khazima cemetery is full.”

Residents say it’s hard to find a burial plot for less than a quarter million rials, or 500 dollars – five times the salary of a government employee. Burials are spread out all over Sanaa cemeteries so as not to attract any attention to the numbers, residents said.

Secretly filming the burials on smartphones in defiance of the Houthi orders has become an act of heroism, local resident said in interviews, adding that the amateur videos give Yemenis the only true glimpse of the true impact of COVID-19 in the region.

The outbreak in the Houthi-held territory is taking place amid simmering tension between the rebels and the U.N. agencies, which are running short of funding for aid programs.

Last week, the United Nations announced that it was about a billion dollars short of what aid agencies say is needed to address Yemen’s humanitarian needs and a deteriorating health care system made worse by the coronavirus.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said one aid worker of an international agency working in Yemen. “Now the COVID-19 outbreak, the suspension of funding, the tension between donors and the authorities, we have less money, and more needs. It’s terrible.”

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

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Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General displayed on a screen at the Environment Ministry as he delivers his speech at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the conference will only be held … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, April 30, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Sixteen armed groups have responded positively to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal for a global cease-fire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but the U.N. chief said Thursday that mistrust remains high and turning intentions into an end to hostilities is difficult.

He said at a news conference that his March 23 call “has resonated widely, with endorsements from 114 governments, diverse regional organizations, religious leaders and more than 200 civil society groups spanning all regions.”

According to an informal tally kept by the U.N. based on various sources, the 16 armed groups that responded positively are from Yemen, Myanmar, Ukraine, Philippines, Colombia, Angola, Libya, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Indonesia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Guterres said his special representatives and envoys are working, with his own involvement when necessary, “to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires.”

The secretary-general said he believes “there is an opportunity for peace in Yemen.” He said a cease-fire negotiated by Turkey and Russia in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the last major opposition stronghold, is holding “but we are still hopeful for a country-wide end to hostilities.”

In Afghanistan, Guterres said, “we are pushing hard for a humanitarian cease-fire between the government and the Taliban.” But “in Libya, regrettably, we have seen an escalation despite all our efforts and those of many others in the international community,” he said.

Guterres stressed that all of the U.N.’s efforts “depend on strong political backing,” and he singled out divisions in the Security Council among its five veto-wielding members as an obstacle.

Diplomats say a draft Security Council resolution voicing support for the secretary-general’s cease-fire call is being held up by a dispute between the United States and China over a reference to the World Health Organization. If adopted, it would be the council’s first resolution related to the pandemic.

The Chinese insist the text mention the WHO and its role in the global fight against the virus. That is opposed by the U.S., where President Donald Trump suspended funding for the U.N. agency in early April, accusing it of failing to stop the virus from spreading and saying it “must be held accountable.” Washington is insisting instead on a reference to “transparency” in information about the virus, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.

Guterres told reporters, “It is my hope the Security Council will be able to find unity and adopt decisions that can help to make cease-fires meaningful and real.”

According to the U.N.’s informal tally, the groups that have responded positively to Guterres’ cease-fire appeal include Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and the country’s separatist Southern Transitional Council; Myanmar’s Arakan Army and Brotherhood Alliance; the Communist Party of the Philippines and its rebel New People’s Army; Colombia’s National Liberation Army; and Angola’s separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda.

The others are the rebel Libyan National Army; Senegal’s Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance; the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Al-Hilu) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front; the Syrian Opposition Coalition; Indonesia’s West Papua National Liberation Army; de facto “authorities” in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh; and entities in control of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Yemen reports first COVID-19 deaths as fears grow that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected

Yemen reports first COVID-19 deaths as fears grow that the coronavirus could be spreading undetected

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In this Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, file photo, Shiite Houthi tribesmen hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen. On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, the Saudi-led coalition fighting … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Yemen on Thursday reported its two coronavirus-related deaths as experts and officials warn that the war-torn country could be devastated by the impacts of the virus within its borders.

Yemen has reported just six confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and one recovery. Officials on Wednesday upped the count from previous reports of just one infection.

Local sources told the BBC the two deaths are believed to be brothers who died in Yemen’s capital city of Aden.

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Earlier this month, U.S. officials announced preparations for a “substantial” aid package to help Yemen in their fight against the coronavirus, but it may be forced to circumvent the World Health Organization after President Trump vowed to freeze funding to the United Nations-backed agency over its handling of the outbreak.

Yemen has been trapped in a devastating five-year-long civil war that has decimated the country’s infrastructure and killed more than 100,000, sparking a humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. has warned recently that there is a “very real probability” that the virus could be spreading undetected among local communities due to inadequate testing resources.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen earlier this month unilaterally declared a ceasefire in an effort to support U.N. and global measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country and ultimately broker a peace agreement.

But the Houthi rebels have launched coalition airstrikes and ground fighting after dismissing the efforts.

The International Rescue Committee’s Yemen Director Tamuna Sabadze on Wednesday warned the country is “on the brink of catastrophe” with increased fighting in the face of a pandemic.

She called on international actors such as the U.S., United Kingdom and France to “push those responsible for the escalation in fighting to commit to a nationwide cease-fire and return to political negotiations to end the war.”

Humanitarian group predicts up to 1 billion coronavirus infections among vulnerable countries

Humanitarian group predicts up to 1 billion coronavirus infections among vulnerable countries

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A woman wearing a face mask as a precaution amid the spread of the new coronavirus collects water from a mountainside on the side of the road to take home in Caracas, Venezuela, on International Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A group of 34 vulnerable countries could see up to 1 billion coronavirus infections and 3.2 million deaths without proper action against the spread of the virus, an international aid group warned Tuesday.

New analysis by the International Rescue Committee suggests that countries with fragile infrastructure and existing humanitarian crises such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Venezuela, could be disproportionately hit by the virus unless a “robust response” is taken in the current early stages.

“These numbers should serve as a wake-up call,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC in a statement Tuesday.

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“The full, devastating and disproportionate weight of this pandemic has yet to be felt in the world’s most fragile and war-torn countries.”

The IRC predicted there could be between 500 million and 1 billion infections, leading to between 1.7 to 3.2 million deaths from COVID-19 in these countries, based on potential response scenarios.

The group cautioned that even extreme social distancing measures that are being implemented around the world are “unsustainable” in the context of humanitarian efforts, and called for localized approaches to mitigate the virus’ spread.

The latest warning comes weeks after the Red Cross predicted that coronavirus outbreaks in Middle Eastern conflict zones could have a greater impact on millions of people in the region and fuel a socioeconomic upheaval and widespread unrest.

Days earlier, the global poverty fund Oxfam warned that the global economic impacts from the coronavirus outbreak could push up to a half a billion more people into poverty around the world.

They estimated that the financial implications from the coronavirus pandemic could set back the poverty fight by up to 30 years.

But Mr. Miliband said there is still time to prevent such devastation among fragile populations.

“We are still in the critical window of time to mount a robust preventative response to the early stages of COVID-19 in many of these countries and prevent a further perpetuation of this epidemic globally,” he said.

More than 3 million coronavirus cases have been reported globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

A total of 212,038 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and more than 906,000 have recovered.

Yemen’s southern separatists claim sole control of Aden

Yemen’s southern separatists claim sole control of Aden

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By AHMED AL-HAJ

Associated Press

Saturday, April 25, 2020

SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen’s southern separatists on Sunday broke a peace deal with the country’s internationally recognized government and claimed sole control of the regional capital of Aden, threatening to resume fighting between the two ostensible allies.

In a statement, the separatists’ Southern Transitional Council, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, declared a state of emergency and said it would “self-govern” the key southern port city and other southern provinces. The separatists accused Yemen’s government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia, of corruption and mismanagement.

The government dismissed the separatists’ move. Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami called for Saudi Arabia to have a “clear position” and take “decisive measures against the continuing rebellion of the so-called Transitional Council.”

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The division between the two supposed allies is another facet of the country’s complicated civil war. On one side are the separatists and on the other are forces loyal to former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Both have fought together in the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels.

The Houthis in 2014 overran major parts of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, pushing out the internationally recognized government and ushering in a war that has killed tens of thousands of people. Hadi fled first to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict in 2015 and has since waged war against the Houthis in an effort to restore Hadi’s government to power. The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has also left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

In August, heavy fighting broke out between Hadi’s forces and the southern separatists when the latter took Aden, the temporary seat of Hadi’s government, and key southern provinces. The fighting stopped when the two groups reached a deal in November.

The deal however has yet to be implemented with both sides traded accusations on halting its implementation.

Saturday’s move came amid protests in Aden against Hadi’s government and the separatists following devastating torrential rains and floods earlier this week. The rains plunged swaths of the country under water, causing extensive damage to homes and leaving dozens of people missing, homeless or dead. It forced Hadi’s government to declare a state of emergency in Aden, which was hit hard.

Sunday’s announcement by the separatists raises concerns that Yemen could slide further into chaos amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Yemen so far has only one confirmed case, in the southern province of Hadramawt, but experts and health workers have warned that the disease could wreak havoc there due to the dilapidated health system and damaged infrastructure.