Crisis In Yemen

Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Since 2015, war between the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, against the Houthi insurgency has left about 24 million people in need of assistance, 4 million people displaced, and 100,000 deaths, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The civil war has also devastated the country’s infrastructure, including its healthcare system. Yemen must battle a cholera outbreak, malnutrition, and now, the coronavirus pandemic with a system that is facing medicine shortages and facilities that have limited equipment and staff. According to UNICEF, more than 10 million children do not have access to basic healthcare, and thousands could develop severe acute malnutrition by the end of the year. 

United Nations agencies and partners estimate that $2.41 billion in aid for Yemen is necessary. Yet, as of June 2020, only about $1.35 billion has been pledged, not all of which has been paid. Without additional funding, the United Nations has warned that 30 out of 41 UN-backed programs could close. Therefore, despite concerns that aid will be obstructed by Houthi rebels, Yemen must receive more funding to combat the humanitarian crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. 


Issues Before The Pandemic

The five year civil war in Yemen, sparked by the Arab Spring, has killed over 100,000 Yemenis and has negatively impacted the nation’s economy, food supply, infrastructure, and public health. Because of blockades and travel restrictions, it is difficult for aid programs to provide food or other resources to people who are in need. According to the World Food Program, 20 million Yemenis face massive food insecurity, and over 3 million women and children suffer from acute malnutrition. However, the threat of starvation is not the only public health issue. As a result of airstrikes that led to damage of the water supply and health infrastructure, Yemen is experiencing one of the largest cholera outbreaks on record, with at least 110,000 people this year alone contracting the disease. With the public health issues of malnutrition and cholera in a country where aid programs say the health system is on the brink of collapse, the coronavirus could exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis and devastate Yemen. 


COVID-19 Makes Humanitarian Crisis Worse

Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on April 10, 2020. As of June, they have over 1,000 positive cases and 300 deaths, yet many organizations, such as the UN, believe there are many more cases than reported, since Yemen has limited testing ability. Save the Children claims Yemen has only 700 intensive care unit beds and 500 ventilators. Approximately 10,000 health care workers have already lost their only salary, which were UN payments. Besides medicine and staff shortages, many health care facilities do not have personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gowns, to ensure the safety of their employees. UN officials warn that the “alarming” COVID-19 death rate in Yemen, around 25%, is four times higher than the global average. The collapsing health care system has been strained by years of war and public health crises, and is unprepared to deal with the possibly catastrophic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In order to deal with coronavirus, malnutrition, and cholera in a country experiencing a weakened economy and infrastructure, more international aid is needed. 

Despite the crisis, the United States decided to reduce aid in Houthi-controlled areas because of strict rules that have obstructed relief, making it difficult to guarantee that aid was received by those who need it and not diverted to other purposes. Since the pandemic, the United States has announced an additional $225 million will go towards aiding Yemen. However, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in May 2020, this aid will fund, “a reduced operation in northern Yemen, where Houthi obstruction forced the WFP to scale down in April 2020” and that, “The United States remains extremely concerned by the Houthis’ ongoing interference in aid operations” (USAID). While Houthi interference of aid is concerning, aid must continue because millions of people, nearly 80% of the population of Yemen, require humanitarian assistance, and many officials believe cutting aid at this critical moment will worsen the humanitarian crisis.


How To Help

Additional funding is needed to combat the humanitarian crisis and coronavirus in Yemen. International donors must pledge and pay an additional $1 billion to meet the target of $2.4 billion estimated by UN agencies and partners. With this funding, healthcare facilities can receive equipment and resources to fight the pandemic, such as PPE, testing kits, and training for frontline workers. Funding would also go towards supporting hygiene and sanitation programs, which are needed to prevent the spread of cholera, and towards supporting the millions of Yemenis who are food insecure. Apart from the UN, there are multiple aid groups, from local to international, that are helping Yemenis during this crisis. 

Besides funding, the UN is also suggesting common public health measures to combat the pandemic, such as contact tracing, early detection and testing, and isolation and treatment of cases. Lastly, Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, called for a ceasefire, hoping that peace will allow the country to focus on its coronavirus response and treatment.


The Future

As Yemen continues to deal with a civil war, food insecurity, and cholera, the international community must ensure that COVID-19 does not push the country to devastation. Though the world is struggling through the pandemic, and internal conflict, pushed by external power players, makes providing aid to Yemen difficult, the country must receive the aid needed to help the millions of lives that are at risk.