Published on The Merkel
Under the coronavirus outbreak, Yemen is facing an enormous tragedy. As a consequence of a six-year civil war, a global pandemic, and a mounting famine, around 80 per cent of the Yemeni population now relies on aid to survive.
With an estimated one million cases as well as the world’s highest fatality rate for COVID-19 at 27 per cent, the country’s already fragile healthcare system has stretched to a breaking point. “In effect collapsed,” according to the UN.
While healthcare is suffering across the board, children continue to be the hardest hit. Over 10 million children do not have adequate access to healthcare, and 2.4 million under-five-years-old are malnourished, declared the charity Save the Children calling for urgent aid.
“We have seen a shocking reduction of 80 per cent in the use of healthcare services for children since the beginning of the year,” Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen said in a statement. “The world is standing by, and even reducing funding, while children are dying.”
Less than half of the $627 million needed for the Yemen 2020 health response plan has been funded, which compromises crucial humanitarian work.
Naser Haghamed, CEO of Islamic Relief, one of the largest NGOs operating in the country, expressed his organization’s struggles. “The UN usually provides fuel for aid agencies during crises at a reasonable rate in the circumstances. But it is hugely challenging for them to continue to support all aid agencies at the same time in this way,” he said.
Islamic Relief has announced that it will provide an additional $10 million targeting food, water sanitation, nutrition, and health programs. This attempt would partially plug the massive funding gaps left by international donors’ inability to meet the UN’s fundraising target.
“Our teams are down to the bare bones in terms of both aid supplies and fuel,” added Haghamed and then warned the international community: “Without urgent action, we will see mass starvation sweep Yemen, and I fear many more innocent people will die.”
Even when it isn’t death or violence, Yemeni people are constantly afraid of displacement, unemployment, and destitution. Figures by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report that more than 3 million people have been displaced in the country. According to UNICEF, 7.8 million Yemeni children don’t have access to education and are at risk of exploitation and abuse.
Additionally, a worrying need for mental health and psychosocial support has been observed throughout Yemen. Concerns and uncertainty around employment, socio-economic conditions, and COVID-19 resulted in growing fear and anxiety levels, including suicidal thoughts.
“Civilians are always the most affected by war. However, nobody is caring about the reports that come from Yemen every day,” said Mohammed Al-qalisi, a Yemeni freelance journalist who covered the conflict for many years.
According to him, this comes as a harmful consequence of the media’s lack of interest in the humanitarian crisis. “We need significant coverage that cares about humanitarian work. We need to tell what Yemeni people are facing,” Al-qalisi said.
“What is happening now with COVID-19 is terrible, so we need the most urgent aid.” He wishes for humanitarian organisations to concentrate their efforts on the sanitary emergency. However, a nationwide ceasefire and a political settlement remain probably Yemen’s best defence against the pandemic.
In April, UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called for a worldwide ceasefire in response to COVID-19 and the Saudi-led coalition agreed for a Yemen ceasefire, but it ended after two weeks.
“By now, all the sides are tired of this war, but they just don’t know how to stop it,” explained Al-qalisi. However, he is convinced this is the only way to solve the civilians’ plight: “No matter who wins it, they just have to stop the war for the people of Yemen.”