This week, the World Food Programme (WFP) and other aid agencies have warned that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is reaching a ‘breaking point’ as COVID-19 spreads, putting millions of vulnerable civilians at risk.
The WFP stated on Tuesday that the health system in the country may not be able to cope without an increase in funding. Elisabeth Byrs, WFP senior spokesperson, called for the immediate protection of 20 million people in Yemen who are food insecure. Byrs stated that two million children in Yemen are already acutely malnourished, and the WFP expects this to increase due to the impact of Coronavirus.
Humanitarian agencies are seeking $2.41 billion to maintain aid operations during the pandemic. In a statement on Thursday, the heads of 17 aid organisations warned that ‘we are running out of time’ to secure funding for the protection of millions of people in the war-torn country.
This appeal for funding comes after more than five years of fighting between the government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now based in the south, and the, mainly Houthi-led, opposition, which occupies the capital, Sana’a, in the north. The U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded over 100,000 fatalities as of October 2019, including 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks. Despite the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in April by the Saudi-led coalition, fighting has continued.
Thousands more are believed to have lost their lives due to malnutrition. Back in April, the WFP’s Chief Economist and Director of Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division, Arif Husain, told the BBC on April 22nd that in 2016, they were assisting three or four million people in Yemen. Today, Husain said, that number is 12 million. On top of this, Yemen is also facing the worst cholera outbreak ever reported, according to the WHO in December 2019.
A UN report in February revealed that around 24 million people, 80% of the population, require humanitarian assistance and protection. Experts warn that the weakened health system, which is already struggling with the cholera outbreak and widespread malnutrition, may not be able to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported over 50 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Yemen as of Thursday 28 May. However, taking into account the lack of testing equipment in the country, the actual figure is believed to be much higher.
It is vital that the pledging conference next Tuesday will provide additional funding for the aid agencies. Yemen lacks the health facilities and equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so financial support from humanitarian organisations is necessary to protect millions of lives.
In their pledge for more funding, the heads of the 17 aid agencies stated that ‘Humanitarians have been remarkably successful in mitigating some of the worst consequences of the Yemen crisis for civilians. But only a political solution can end the crisis altogether.’ They have called for a cessation of hostilities across the country to address the ‘ever-mounting humanitarian needs.’
The new threat of COVID-19 has highlighted the severity of the situation in Yemen, whose population has already faced unprecedented suffering due to ongoing conflict and famine. The UN must continue to work towards ending the civil war and implementing sustainable peace. Now more than ever, fighting must cease to prevent devastating effects in a country already facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
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