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A convergence of crises: Why Yemen needs international aid and coverage

The country is suffering from one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. In addition to coronavirus, there is also widespread conflict, and food and water shortages.

This isn’t about America. This is about Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East that are now being ravaged by a global pandemic and a civil war, among other issues. The biggest problem? Barely anyone seems to be paying attention.

The question is, why? And what can people do to help?

History of the conflict

Yemen is suffering from more than just the COVID-19 crisis. The country has also been embroiled in a civil war that has raged on for several years. The history of this war can be traced back to 2011 when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted and forced to hand authority to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The transition of power was not a seamless one. President Hadi’s term was wracked by civil unrest, corruption, and food insecurity. This contributed to the rise of the Houthi movement, which eventually overthrew Hadi’s government and gradually took control of Yemen’s government in the city of Sanaa between 2014 to 2015.

The Houthis have since expanded to control much of the western areas of the county, and President Hadi, as well as other members of his government, have been forced into exile.

In 2015 a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries assembled in an attempt to restore Hadi’s internationally recognized government. However, some countries such as the UAE are now withdrawing their support from Yemen.

The civil war has continued on since then, and it has contributed to a multitude of problems such as food and water shortages, a lack of central government, and countless deaths.

While a cease-fire was in effect for a time, the Southern Transitional Council or STC, recently declared self-rule in an island off of Yemen’s southern coast known as Socotra. This island is not only a UNESCO world heritage site due to its unique plant life, but it’s also a vital shipping port for Yemen. 

The STC’s actions not only violate the conditions of the country’s cease-fire agreement, but it also further complicates the nature of this conflict. The STC was previously allied with the Saudi Arabian and UAE coalition, and it formerly received support from the United Arab Emirates in particular.

As conflict rages despite attempts to render a cease-fire agreement, this only worsens the issues the people of Yemen are already facing.

Yemen faces more than just a pandemic

With the continuing and ever-complicating civil war in Yemen, the country is going through the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Despite attempts at international aid, some relief organizations are still struggling to deliver relief to people.

According to a United Nations press release, “A funding deficit of more than $1 billion remains, following the 2 June High-Level Pledging Event for Yemen, when donors pledged $1.35 billion, out of the $2.41 billion needed for essential humanitarian activities through the year.”

Another UN press release mentions, “UNICEF’s COVID-19 response in Yemen remains severely under-funded. So far, only 10 percent of UNICEF’s $53 million funding appeal has been received.” As a result, they face the possibility of shutting off clean water stations in the country.

Doctors Without Borders has suffered as well due to the civil war. Back in 2018, two of their operation sites were attacked.

“For the second time in less than a week, the staff house of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Ad Dhale governorate in southern Yemen was targeted with explosives. The most recent incident occurred on October 1,” according to a press release from the organization.

“Due to the severity of these attacks and the clear lack of safety for the team working there, MSF has been forced to withdraw its staff from Ad Dhale and suspend its medical programs until further notice, leaving thousands of Yemenis without humanitarian and medical assistance.”

Even without taking the COVID-19 crisis into consideration, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is still among the worst in the world. The country suffers from severe issues such as food shortages, lack of access to clean water and hygiene, and what is considered to be the worst cholera epidemic in modern history.

When compounded with the coronavirus pandemic, however, the situation in Yemen is truly an apocalyptic one.

COVID-19, a civil war, and a cholera epidemic

Like the rest of the world, Yemen too suffers from the coronavirus pandemic, which has compounded upon the many other problems its people unfortunately suffer. According to a UNICEF spokesperson:

“COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, driven by an unabated conflict.”

“The conflict in Yemen has a disproportionate impact on women and children,” the spokesperson continued. “Yemen is already one of the worst places on earth to be a woman or a child…As COVID-19 spreads throughout Yemen, their futures will be at even greater risk.”

Due to the lack of a centralized government and the divided nature of the country, the Yemeni people already struggle in obtaining medical care for issues caused by the civil war there. Trying to combat a new disease now only makes things more difficult.

“These outcomes are almost certainly a result of the conflict. More than five years of war have devastated Yemen’s health infrastructure, subjected Yemenis to repeated disease outbreaks and malnutrition, and substantially increased vulnerabilities,” said a UNICEF spokesperson.

“Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, with close to 100,000 Yemenis having been forced to flee their home since the beginning of the year.

With attacks ranging from airstrikes to artillery shellings, the thought of any sort of coronavirus-related regulations to mitigate the spread is nothing more than a distant dream. Not to mention the country is already suffering from the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, which puts further strain on its healthcare system. According to a UNICEF spokesperson:

“Sanitation and clean water are in short supply. Only half of health facilities are functioning. Many functioning health centres lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat COVID-19.  Many health and frontline humanitarian workers have no protective gear, and most are receiving no salaries or incentives.”

The spokesperson added, “In spite of the efforts of local health workers and international agencies, the health system is buckling further under the additional strain of COVID-19.”

Even calling the events in Yemen “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” almost doesn’t seem to do it justice. Despite the horrifying multitude of crises its people endure, there seems to be little media attention on Yemen in the United States, which makes the fact that some are unaware of the suffering there all the more horrific.

“Children in Yemen continue to face a myriad of threats to their survival. A further spread of cholera, high levels of malnutrition and outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases compounded by COVID-19 will only exacerbate the burden that children and their families already face,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

How to help out

Donating directly to humanitarian organizations is the best way to give aid, but there are alternatives available for those who might not have the resources to give directly.

If you’re looking for a one-stop online resource for how to help the people of Yemen, this website provides a list of sources you can use to educate yourself and spread the word of what is going on. There are also names of organizations you can donate to if you decide to do so in the future.

As mentioned previously, INGOs such as UNICEF and the UN, as well as many others are still immensely short on their required funding. UNICEF offers a variety of resources that give people guidance on how to take action, and the UN has a page where people can donate to any one of their branch organizations.

Spreading the word through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, is also a good way to show others the severity of the situation in Yemen.

In a time where a multitude of tragic happenings such as the COVID-19 crisis, protests, and civil unrest are occurring, it’s important to consider events beyond one’s own home country. Even keeping international events in mind can help start the spread of awareness and coverage. Just remember, even now…

“A tragedy continues to unfold in Yemen in the full glare of the world.”