Earlier this year, the United States and other countries gave the rebels an ultimatum to meet benchmarks or risk losing some assistance. But only the United States, one of the biggest donors, threatened to halt all funding in Houthi-controlled areas if the rebels failed to meet more than a dozen requirements by Friday, humanitarian officials said.
In the weeks since, the rebels made some progress, the officials said. Then the threat of the coronavirus came into sharper focus, prompting aid groups and others to plead with the American aid agency to wait another month before cutting off funding.
On Thursday, Democratic lawmakers, including Representatives Eliot Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Adam Smith of Washington, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Agency for International Development administrator, Mark Green, expressing concern about the pending decision.
“A suspension of assistance during a pandemic would risk the health response in a country in which 50 percent of its health care is offline due to fighting,” the lawmakers wrote. “Given the U.S. is among the largest humanitarian donors to Yemen, abruptly ceasing aid would exacerbate an already tragic humanitarian crisis.”
Still, the American aid officials decided to halt the funding, cutting off about $70 million in assistance destined for the northern part of Yemen. The south, which is less populous, still receives aid dollars, the officials said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development said the Houthis were to blame for interruptions of aid to Yemeni people.
“We are extremely concerned that the Houthis have already caused millions of people to lose access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance and worsened the effects of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis,” the spokesman said. “The coronavirus pandemic demonstrates now more than ever the need for our partners in Yemen to be able to deliver aid to those who need it most without interference or delay.”
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