The pandemic has compounded Yemen's already dire humanitarian crisis.
Since the Yemeni civil war erupted five years ago, the country has been dealing with several challenges. While the conflict has led the country to become known as the 'world’s worst humanitarian crisis', Yemen’s plight grows more desperate amid the coronavirus outbreak.
When I spoke to the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Unversity of Denver, Nader Hashemi, told me that, "Much of this suffering is attributable to the absence of global leadership. Specifically, the refusal of the United States and the United Kingdom to stop Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen which is a key source of this country’s suffering.”
There is indeed a clear lack of global cooperation to save Yemen because the country is not at the top of the agenda for world leaders, and this is one reason why Yemen’s crisis is deepening.
On July 12, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) warned that the coronavirus and broader humanitarian responses remain hugely underfunded in Yemen, risking an increase in the spread of the pandemic in the country.
It is shameful that Western governments, who have the means to provide funds, did not. Rather, some of them have sold arms to the Saudi-led coalition, which has committed numerous war crimes in Yemen. This suggests that these governments are prioritising their economic ties with Riyadh over the world's most dire humanitarian need.
Of course, this is not the first time there has been a lack of funds. Last year, the UN announced that it was being forced to close down several humanitarian programmes in Yemen because money pledged by member states to pay for them has “failed to materialise”. This can only be seen as one other example that reflects the extent to which states, including the ones who are meant to be champions of human rights, have failed to demonstrate that the fate of Yemenis is something they truly care about.
One of the most severe problems facing Yemenis is famine. In 2018, Save the Children said that an estimated 85,000 children under five may have died from extreme hunger since the war in Yemen escalated. Today, the level of famine in Yemen is at risk of increasing.
Last month, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization warned that food shortages will rise sharply in parts of Yemen in the next six months, mainly because of the overall economic decline and the coronavirus pandemic that has ripped through the Arab world's poorest country.
The UN agencies said in a report that the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity is expected to increase from two million to 3.2 million in the country's south.
This image of what the Yemenis could soon face stresses the need for world leaders to take action. There should be a global effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the country to prevent more people dying from starvation.
As always, it is Yemenis who tend to pay the heavy price. A recent survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found that one in four vulnerable families have lost all their income since the pandemic hit the country in April.
A staggering 94 percent of families reported food as a top concern and almost half of the respondents said they had lost at least half of their income, even as prices for food and water went up. This shows the importance of generating a plan, aimed at saving the country.
Yemen’s economy is not strong enough to reduce the number of families suffering, so little improvement should be expected without international help.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the number of cases in Yemen continues to increase. As of August 8, the number of reported confirmed Covid-19 cases in Yemen had reached 1,801 with 513 associated deaths and 912 recoveries, according to UNOCHA.
Indeed, it should be alarming that if the number of Covid-19 cases continues increasing, the health system in Yemen could collapse.
None of the warring parties should be exempt from being held responsible for the conditions Yemenis live in today. Last year, a panel of international experts said that all parties to the war in Yemen were committing horrific abuses, from arbitrary killings to rape and torture, with an impunity that underscores a collective failure of the international community.
Yet world leaders also share responsibility as they turned a blind eye to Yemen’s tragedy when they are capable of playing a positive role. If the governments that sell arms to Saudi Arabia were firm with Riyadh and set boundaries, it is unlikely that the tragedy Yemenis live in, would have reached this extent. Now, as the situation further deteriorates, action is necessary more than at any other time.
“In November, world leaders from the G20 are to meet in Riyadh. Will they send a clear message to MBS to halt his bombing of Yemen?” asks Hashemi. “I am not holding my breath."
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