On September 23, 2020, the United Nations (UN) announced that they would be reducing aid that was directed towards 300 health facilities within Yemen due to a lack of funding. This announcement follows the shutdown of 1/3 of UN humanitarian programs within Yemen that occurred from April to August; the UN stated that there would be more shutdowns “in coming weeks unless additional funding [was] received.” The reduction in aid and humanitarian programs comes at a critical time, amidst a pandemic and an ongoing civil war that has disrupted the lives of an estimated 24 million people living in Yemen. As the situation currently stands, three quarters of Yemen’s population is in dire need of aid and resources.
Beyond the United Nations, other nations have been of little support in aiding the Yemeni population. Saudi Arabiaa—country which has fuelled much of the conflict and instability within Yemen due to their efforts in 2015 to assure the rule of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and to crush any opposing liberation movements—has been heavily criticized by top members of the UN for failing to follow through with promises of aid. Lisa Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, has stated that only $1 billion of the $3.2 billion in aid pledged to Yemen by members of the UN had been received. UN envoy Martin Griffiths emphasized what could happen without the procurement of such aid or the assistance of the international community, stating that Yemen could “slip back away from the road to peace.” He noted that “increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs, and the COVID-19 pandemic” were some of the greatest problems Yemen faces.
This lack of resources, coupled with the global pandemic, creates fear and uncertainty, particularly within the refugee community in Yemen. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Laila Abdulrab, a humanitarian aid worker for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated, “the demand for UNHCR assistance is greater, and without it, many vulnerable people, including single-women households, unaccompanied children, sexual violence survivors and others, will become at serious risk of eviction and a lack of access to food and basic needs.” The UNCHR estimated that an estimated 40,000 people were displaced in Yemen as of May 2020 and these numbers are expected to rise due to the lack of humanitarian aid coming in to Yemen, as well as the global pandemic and rising food prices within the country. The Yemeni government’s COVID-19 response team claimed that, in June of 2020, there was an estimated 900 cases and 250 deaths due to COVID-19, although there is reason to believe that the actual number of COVID-19 cases and deaths is much higher due to a lack of centralized healthcare and testing.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are considered the most at risk, as the camps are notoriously overcrowded, which does not allow for social distancing guidelines to be followed or the option of self-isolation. The camps also have inadequate access to basic necessities, such as food, water, and sanitation.
The UNHCR has adapted their efforts during this pandemic by providing cash directly to refugees and IDPs who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 related circumstances, with an emphasis on providing this assistance to families with women and people with disabilities. Despite the UNHCR identifying 49,200 IDP and refugee families that could benefit from this aid, the UNHCR was only able to distribute this aid to 55% of those families as of August 2020.
This reduction and overall inability to provide humanitarian aid, such as healthcare and financial assistance, to IDP and refugee families in Yemen comes at a frightening time. The international community at large is becoming increasingly more concerned with the welfare of their own respective communities and economies, leaving many people within Yemen without vital resources or even the ability to possess full agency over their own lives.
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