Ryad (AFP)

In addition to the war and the Covid-19 pandemic, Yemen is likely to bear the brunt of the economic crisis hitting its main donor, Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has long been plunged into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN. And the difficulties encountered as a result of the war were made worse by the intervention in 2015 of a military coalition led by Ryad against the Houthi rebels, supported by Iran.

Ryad, accused like the Houthis of "war crimes" by UN experts, is the first provider of aid and funds to Yemen, a country to which the kingdom has spent tens of billions of dollars.

But with the collapse in oil prices and the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia must tighten its belt.

Its costly military intervention in Yemen has also produced few gains. The Houthis are resilient in the North and "a war in the war" pits the loyalists against the southern separatists within the anti-rebel coalition in the South.

"The Saudis are no longer inclined to spend without counting in Yemen," said a Western official who is closely following this dossier.

Of the two billion dollars deposited by Saudi Arabia with the Yemeni Central Bank in 2018, there remained less than 200 million in May, according to Acaps, a charitable project bringing together several NGOs.

"Yemen seems more and more vulnerable," warns Acaps in a report, warning that the drying up of Saudi support would cause a fall in the Yemeni riyal and the purchasing power of the population.

- The reserves are running out -

A virtual donors' conference hosted by the Saudis with the UN earlier this month raised just over half of its $ 2.4 billion goal.

Already considered to be the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula before the conflict that left tens of thousands dead and displaced millions, Yemen is on the brink of disaster.

About 24 million Yemenis - over 80% of the population - are on the brink of starvation and 14.3 million are in urgent need of assistance, according to the World Bank.

Poverty, which affected half of the 29 million inhabitants before the conflict, now concerns 71 to 78% of the population. Women are the most affected, according to the same source.

The crisis is aggravated by divisions in the South which affect the functioning of the Central Bank whose reserves are running out.

The separatists, who proclaimed autonomy for the South in April, recently seized a convoy destined for the Central Bank of Aden under loyalist control, transporting the equivalent of around 80 million dollars in Yemeni riyals.

One of their spokesmen justified the seizure by declaring to AFP that it was intended to prevent a collapse of the local currency.

The quarrel "has created circumstances that will discourage Saudi Arabia (government support from Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, editor's note) from replenishing reserves" in Yemen, said the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.

And while the kingdom is forced to "massive budget cuts", no other international donor seems to want to take its place, notes the center.

- "Huge consequences" -

NGOs like Oxfam also warn of an "unprecedented drop" in remittances to Yemen, which fell by 80% between January and April in six provinces.

According to the NGO, millions of people depend on transfers from the Gulf. Some 1.6 million Yemenis work in Saudi Arabia, where many immigrants are losing jobs or wages due to the virus.

Any reduction in transfers will have "huge consequences," insists Abdulwasea Mohammed, Oxfam's political advisor in Yemen.

Despite everything, it seems unlikely that the Saudi kingdom will reduce its military intervention because it considers the Houthis as an existential threat.

Just days after Ryad released austerity measures in May, the Pentagon said Boeing had won $ 2.6 billion in contracts to supply the kingdom with more than 1,000 surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles.

© 2020 AFP