The heads of 17 organizations representing the international humanitarian community issued a statement on Thursday, saying “we are running out of time” to keep operations in the war-torn country functioning through the end of the year.
Today, the #COVID19 pandemic is pushing Yemen even closer to the brink of collapse. As UNICEF stands with the children of Yemen, we call on our global partners to do the same. @unicefchiefhttps://t.co/6TEhQqTxZ4
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) May 28, 2020
Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in early April. Since then, there have been 260 cases and 54 deaths, according to latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, the partners said further testing and analysis are needed to gain a true picture of the epidemic’s toll.
“Official figures indicate that COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 10 of the country’s 22 governorates, demonstrating widespread transmission. But testing and reporting remain limited and it is likely that most areas of the country are already impacted, if not all”, they said.
Pledging conference ahead
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been driven by more than five years of fighting between government troops, supported by international allies, and Ansar Allah rebels, also known as Houthis.
The UN continues to work on bringing the warring sides to reach a lasting peace.
The aid partners hope a virtual pledging conference next Tuesday will shore up financial support for their operations, which reach 10 million people each month.
Through donor funding in recent years, they have prevented widespread famine and rolled back the largest cholera outbreak in history, while also assisting families uprooted by the fighting.
“Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work”, they said.
“Of 41 major UN programmes in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds. This means many more people will die.”
Health system strained
Yemen’s embattled health system has been buckling under the additional strain of COVID-19.
Only half of all facilities are functioning, and many lack masks, gloves and other equipment, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the disease.
Meanwhile, sanitation and clean water are in short supply, and scores of health workers and frontline aid workers are operating without protective gear, most of whom are not receiving salaries.
Women and children worst affected
The conflict has been particularly devastating for Yemen’s women and children.
More than 12 million children and six million women of childbearing age need some kind of humanitarian assistance, the humanitarians reported, while more than one million pregnant women are malnourished.
The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) outlined the impact the fighting has had on education.
“Before COVID, two million children were out of school. Now because of the pandemic, schools have been closed around the country, leaving an additional five million children out of school. And we know that in countries blighted by poverty and conflict, the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” said Henrietta Fore, the agency’s Executive Director, in a separate statement.
The ongoing fighting means Yemenis are forced to flee their homes, with nearly 100,000 uprooted this year alone.
Overall, the conflict has displaced some 3.6 million people. They are living in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions which make it impossible to practice physical distancing and other measures to contain COVID-19. Again, most of those affected are women and children.
Running out of time
Amidst the mounting challenges, the UN and its humanitarian partners continue to provide protection and support that prioritizes the most vulnerable citizens in Yemen.
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Their COVID-19 strategy focuses on scaling up early detection and testing, isolation and treatment of cases, and contact tracing: all proven public health measures to combat the disease.
They are also mobilizing life-saving supplies and equipment while still delivering the world’s largest relief operation.
“Humanitarians have been remarkably successful in mitigating some of the worst consequences of the Yemen crisis for civilians. But only a political solution can end the crisis altogether. We need a cessation of hostilities across the country to address the ever-mounting humanitarian needs”, they said.
“If the political process has any chance of success, the humanitarian situation must be kept stable. We have the skills, staff and capacity to do this. What we don’t have is the money. We are running out of time. We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly.”