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What does $1bn in aid really mean for Yemen?

In September 2014, Yemen’s Houthi rebels allied with the country’s former leader in an attempt to take on the new transitional government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. Finally equipped with Saleh’s arsenal of deadly weapons, the tribal militia marched into the capital, capturing state buildings and institutions and sending the government fleeing to the southern coastal city of Aden.

Unwilling to witness its neighbour fall into chaos and jeopardise its own security just a few miles away, Saudi Arabia mobilised a coalition of mainly Arab nations and flew its fighter jets into Yemeni territory in March the following year; ready to combat the Houthi enemy and reinstate the internationally recognised Hadi government.

Yemen, already branded the region’s poorest nation, was now facing political instability, an all-out war and the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Two years of conflict, 10,000 dead and several failed peace talks later, an international conference was held to support Yemen, where millions are in need of emergency support as the war continues to plunge the nation into deeper abyss.

“Some 17 million are food insecure, making this the world’s largest hunger crisis,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said at last week’s Geneva conference, highlighting a situation worsened by import restrictions and the destruction of port facilities.

Nearly $1.1 billion was pledged by 48 Member States including the European Commission, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and four NGO/humanitarian organisations for humanitarian action in Yemen in 2017.

“Now we must see the pledges translated into the scaled up action the people of Yemen need and deserve,” Guterres said.

‘Abysmal track record’

While well-wishers cheered the move, locals and analysts familiar with Yemen remained indifferent; aware of the country’s somewhat abysmal track record with international aid.

“The last time aid was pledged was before the 2011 revolution,” Yemeni economist Amal Nasser told The New Arab. “The ‘Friends of Yemen’ conference pledged $7-8 billion to assist the country but very little was dispersed. This time however, it's a truly critical case. We have a government that is not in control of the entire country so the issue is; which of Yemen’s warring parties will be the recipient of the money.”

Despite the March 2015 Saudi-led intervention, Houthi rebels remain in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and Hadi’s internationally recognised government has yet to relocate from the temporary southern capital.

Houthi-controlled cities that are usually externally choked with import restrictions from Arab coalition forces also suffer under the rebels newly-instated state apparatus.

Civil servants in rebel-held areas, including teachers and medical professionals, have not been paid their wages in more than seven months.

Meanwhile, local groups and warlords are also hindering aid delivery.

“Of course a lot of the money will go into areas controlled by Houthis but it does not mean it will directly go into Houthi hands,” Nasser suggests, noting the country’s current “widespread chaos makes it difficult to have a proper monitoring process.”

“We have a long history of corruption and that is why I also worry should large sums of money go into government accounts."

Taking Yemen off life support

Tuesday's UN conference came as dozens of Yemenis ended a week-long march to the port city of Hodeidah from Sanaa to demand the establishment of a humanitarian zone.

Participants held banners reading "Do not close, do not target Hodeidah port" and "Do not starve the Yemeni people, do not commit genocide".

Roughly 60 percent of Yemen is going hungry while airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition continue to claim civilian lives and destroy infrastructure, as rebel shenanigans cause chaos nationwide.

“Ending the war is that's the first step,” Nasser says. “A lot of elements are contributing to Yemen’s woes but directing money to international and local NGOs will surely help Yemenis on the ground.”

More than two years of war and fruitless discussions has left traditionally hopeful Yemenis somewhat cynical – many of whom have adopted a more realistic approach to a stagnant situation.

“Of course, the aid will help but whether it's enough or not will be debated in the coming month,” Nasser says, referring to a fresh round of upcoming peace talks in May.

“The truth is we don’t know where the money will go.”

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