The Compounding Implications of COVID-19 in Yemen

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TACOMA, Washington — The Republic of Yemen is located at the southernmost tip of the Arabian peninsula, populated by around 30 million people. Yemenis have endured deplorable conditions since the beginning of the civil war in 2014, facing numerous attacks and rampant starvation, and have been further struck by the impact of COVID-19 in Yemen.

Many of Yemen’s people have been battling famine-like conditions for years with little resources to overcome their impoverished situations. More than 128,000 Yemenis have been killed by the war, while more than 164,000 fled the country in 2020 alone due to relentless violence and strife. Extremely limited access to food and water makes social distancing and the precautions to avoid COVID-19 nearly impossible, as well. The compounding factors of war, famine and an increasingly dire pandemic have led Yemen into the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis, currently.

War and Famine in Yemen

In late 2014, a rebel group named Houthi took over the capital with help from the previous leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi Arabia, The UAE and several other Arab nations countered this action through bombings with support from the U.S. Additionally, 30 domestic armed groups have been fighting the Houthi’s hold on the capital. The biggest victims in this struggle, however, are civilians who have felt attacks from both sides ever since. Landmines, bombings, shootings and assassinations have taken a hold on the nation’s throat, driving civilians to flee the country, searching for respite.

War has become a constant in Yemeni people’s daily lives. They also have faced malnutrition, cholera outbreaks, flash floods, water shortages and have felt the fullest impact of COVID-19. The collapse of the Yemeni economy, caused by the ongoing civil war, has put food imports down by 20% and has halted the production of food, bringing on mass food insecurity and skyrocketing hunger rates. Around 80% of the population has limited access to food and water. From expert projections, around 40% of Yemen could be at a dire point of food insecurity.

COVID-19 in Yemen

COVID-19 in Yemen is another struggle, adding to the laundry list of issues the country currently faces. The civil war and resulting humanitarian crises have created an unstable environment in Yemen in which a pandemic may thrive. Infection-limiting practices, like social distancing, are nearly impossible as civilians are under the pressure of violence and food inaccessibility. With very limited housing available, many must also live in overcrowded homes, facilitating the rampant spread of the virus even further.

In April 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Yemen, although there is no way to know the true numbers or the date of the first infection due to Houthi influence. COVID-19 in Yemen has a high death rate, as well. Healthcare facilities, healthcare workers and medical supplies have been hard to find due to internal struggles, especially with many healthcare workers fleeing the state’s violence. Most alarming is that more than half of Yemen’s healthcare facilities are either closed or only partially functional.

The Hope for Help in Yemen

Although the civil war has yet to end and COVID-19 in Yemen has compounded with famine-like conditions to undermine any possible resolution, coverage has been widespread. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization dedicated to providing aid and facilitating development for struggling nations, has provided clean water, education, medical care and other lifesaving resources to the Yemeni people. They began their work in Yemen in 2012 and have supplied health care to more than a quarter-million people so far. Furthermore, the organization trained existing healthcare workers in handling cholera outbreaks and other diseases. Regarding the ongoing conflict, they have called for a ceasefire and international recognition of the ongoing crises. Although Yemen faces a massive humanitarian crisis on all fronts, The IRC works to counteract the violence and sickness that are plaguing the country.

Lizzie Herestofa
Photo: Flickr

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