By Daniel Gaffney
The U.N. declared Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis before the Coronavirus pandemic. Since 2015, the country has been torn apart by two ongoing civil wars, frequent cholera outbreaks and 80% of the population are on the brink of starvation— now add Covid-19.
Yemen faces a worst-case scenario. The death toll from the pandemic could exceed the combined toll that has resulted from war, disease and hunger over the past five years. According to a U.N. Commissioned report, an estimated 230,000 lives will be lost.
These dire warnings came after a June 2, 2020 meeting sought to raise $2.4 billion needed by the U.N. and NGOs but netted only $1.35 billion. In 2019, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates had pledged $1.5 billion. This year, only the Saudis pledged ($500 million). Whether to prevent diversion of aid by the Houthis—also a common complaint among Western donors—or for other reasons, the impact on Yemeni civilians will be devastating.
The Middle-Eastern country is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the pandemic. Since March 2015, 3.65 million have been internally displaced—80 percent of them for over a year. In the meantime, the U.N.’s lack of funds means half-rations for 8.5 million hungry Yemenis. Around 2 million children under 5 years old suffer from acute malnutrition. Prior to the pandemic, 2 million children were out of school; an additional 5 million are now out of school. Furthermore, some 10 percent of Yemenis depend wholly on remittances. According to Oxfam, money transfers decreased by 80 percent between January and April.
Predictably, the war decimated the country’s health sector, with at least half the medical facilities rendered dysfunctional while confronting the worst cholera outbreak in modern times with 110,000 cases in April. Around 20 percent of the country’s 333 districts have no medical doctors and the numbers are getting thinner as the war and now the pandemic force doctors and other medical staff to leave the country or avoid working for fear of infection with little available protection. The country currently has only 500 ventilators (60 for children) and 700 intensive care unit beds. According to the U.N. more than 30 of 41 major U.N. programs in Yemen will close in the next few weeks if additional funding is not available. Some 10,000 health care workers have already lost the United Nations payments that for many were their only salary. The U.N. has also had to halt health services for women giving birth in 150 hospitals. As the UNHCR says. the country’s health system “has in effect collapsed.”
So Why is the World Ignoring Yemen?
Mainstream media has always shown little concern for events outside of the western world. The British media in particular, is more concerned with one man’s trip to Durham, than a humanitarian crisis that could kill a quarter of a million people in the Middle-East. The media masquerade continues to convince itself that it isn’t racist, while the BBC has confirmed that, tonight, they will be airing the last episode of Eastenders filmed before lockdown. A child under the age of five dies every ten minutes in Yemen, but the world’s worst humanitarian crisis never makes the front page..
On a political level, the great nations of the world are pre-occupied with their own Covid-19 responses. Trump’s America has surpassed 115,000 coronavirus related deaths. France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands have signed a deal to produce a vaccine for Europe, as they each face second waves; while Boris Johnson continues to face allegations of putting brexit above breathing in the UK. Tragically, the international community is treading water as Yemen slips under.
Without adequate testing, PPE, ventilators, etc., fighting COVID-19 remains an uphill battle. Yet, there are areas of hope, including the U.N.-trained rapid response teams now battling cholera in all 333 districts. Their numbers are now doubling and they are beginning to target the pandemic with contact tracing and relaying samples to testing centers, which are gearing up. One can only hope that the funds needed for Yemen will be secured. The alternative is a tragedy no one should want to contemplate.