SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — The ongoing and violent civil war in Yemen has devastated the country for more than six years, resulting in a population hit hard by poverty and hunger. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis. The most impoverished country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 on April 10, 2020, adding further strain to an already hard-hit healthcare system. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Yemen means humanitarian efforts are even more urgent.
The Situation in Yemen
Since the beginning of the civil war in 2014, the conflict in Yemen has resulted in 18,400 civilians killed or wounded, with thousands more affected by the consequences of famine, disease and widespread poverty. The U.N. has described the situation as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Roughly 71-78% of Yemen’s population are living in poverty and 40% of households are struggling to afford the minimum required food. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Yemen has not helped these conditions and the pandemic has added further challenges to providing crucial forms of aid.
Poverty and COVID-19
One of the primary challenges Yemen faces during the pandemic is poverty, which severely limits access to clean water and other forms of sanitation vital to combating COVID-19. The economic fallout of the pandemic has also further hurt the country’s already vulnerable population. Access to employment has decreased as the pandemic has continued, pushing more people into poverty in a country where 80% of the population now depends entirely on aid to survive.
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Yemen also includes consequences for children, one of the most important aspects being access to education. The closure of schools has affected 7.8 million children in Yemen and puts them at greater risk of being exploited for child labor or recruited into armed groups. The pandemic has also further exacerbated malnutrition. It is predicted that more than two million children under 5 could suffer from malnutrition, equating to almost 50% of all Yemeni children under 5.
Humanitarian organizations have been working both on the ground and internationally to provide aid to Yemen. A primary example is UNICEF, which appealed for $461 million in June 2020 to respond to the humanitarian crisis along with an additional $53 million directed to help fight COVID-19 in Yemen. UNICEF’s 2021 appeal requires $576.9 million, which would go toward securing access to water, sanitation, food and health services in Yemen.
COVID-19 and Healthcare
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Yemen has had 5,922 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 21, 2021, and 1,139 deaths, noting that the actual number of cases may be much higher because of issues related to underreporting and asymptomatic cases. The pandemic, along with other communicable diseases that have increased in prevalence during the conflict, has increased the burden on Yemen’s healthcare infrastructure already decimated by the conflict. More than 50% of all healthcare facilities in Yemen are closed fully or are functioning in part. Facilities that are open have limited access to important and life-saving resources such as oxygen.
Work is being done to develop healthcare systems in Yemen, particularly with regard to the ability to diagnose and treat COVID-19 cases. National health authorities have partnered with WHO and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) to develop the Yemen COVID-19 Response Project (YCRP), which aims to increase the healthcare system’s capacity to respond to the pandemic.
In 2020, the project established 37 isolation wards for COVID-19 patients along with six national laboratories for COVID-19 testing. It has also supplied medical and diagnostic supplies. The project also improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and air filtration systems in isolation units. Alongside these measures, the initiative trained 1,473 healthcare personnel on WHO-approved infection prevention and control protocols and strengthened more than 300 specialized response teams in terms of the COVID-19 response.
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Yemen has been significant, but dedicated organizations are actively working to improve conditions and access to healthcare in the country. Continued attention and financial support are key to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and ensuring that the country has the resources it needs to combat the pandemic.
– Nicole Ronchetti