COVID-19-related ‘tragedy’ unfolding in Yemen

1 June 2020 – A ‘tragedy’ fueled by the spread of COVID-19 which is unfolding in Yemen could affect millions of people there, an international UN-backed pledging conference is expected to hear on Tuesday. Some ten million people each month have been receiving humanitarian aid from the UN and other partners as a result of five years of conflict in the Arabian Peninsula country, and there are fears that the already depleted health system will not be able to cope if the deadly virus takes hold.
The first case of COVID-19 in Yemen was recorded in April and there have already been reports of hospitals turning patients away.
Initial findings from intensive care units suggest that some 20 per cent of people being treated after becoming infected are dying, compared to the global average of 7 per cent.
On Tuesday, an international pledging conference being held in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, aid agencies will be asking donors for US$2.41 billion to cover essential activities until the end of the year including programmes to address COVID-19.
People with severe symptoms, like high fevers and distressed breathing, have been turned away from health facilities that are either full or unable to provide safe treatment. This is happening in a country that is already the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Over five years of conflict have killed thousands of civilians including children, displaced millions, destroyed livelihoods, decimated the economy, brought the health system to its knees and pushed millions to the brink of famine. Eighty per cent of Yemen’s population need humanitarian assistance and protection. But now the coronavirus is introducing a new set of horrors and profound risks.
Every month, the UN and its partners reach more than 10 million people in Yemen with food, shelter, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, education, health, nutrition and protection services. More is needed, but funding is running low. Before the first COVID-19 case was recorded in April, the UN and partners were facing a severe funding shortage that forced them to scale back critical programmes. Of the 41 core UN assistance programmes in Yemen, 31 are at risk of closure or major reduction in the coming weeks unless donors commit new funding immediately. These programmes save millions of lives. Without immediate funding to allow the UN to deliver on its mandate, the situation will become catastrophic for people already facing malnutrition, food insecurity and disease.
The UN knows how to deliver assistance to people in difficult situations. This is what we do best. We are asking donors to pledge now and demonstrate to people in Yemen that the international community has not abandoned them.
In this piece, we feature women, men, girls and boys whom we have met over the last five years of reporting on the crisis. Despite being faced with the hardest conditions and challenges, they show their incredible strength and resilience day after day.
They need us to stand by them. Urgently.
Doctors, nurses and health-care workers
More than five years of war have devastated Yemen’s health infrastructure, subjected Yemenis to repeated disease outbreaks and malnutrition, and substantially increased vulnerabilities.
Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are functioning. Many that function already lack basic equipment like masks, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies. Many medical staff do not know when or if they will be paid. They tend to the sick without the protection needed to ensure their own safety. – UN News