First war, then hunger – now Yemen faces the deadly threat of Covid-19

The UN’s World Food Programme says that the coronavirus is contributing to a ‘perfect storm’ of problems that could throw millions of Yemenis into a deeper food crisis

Alaa Aldwaley
Saturday 25 July 2020 14:17 BST
People queuing with social distancing measures at a food distribution facility in Ibb
People queuing with social distancing measures at a food distribution facility in Ibb

For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has made the past few months some of the most difficult we have ever faced. But as we put on our masks and begin to tentatively trickle back to shops, pubs and restaurants, the deadly threat of Covid-19 is also beginning to take its toll on some of the world’s most fragile places.

In Yemen, years of war have caused mass poverty, hunger and chronic illness and have destroyed healthcare facilities. Even before the pandemic, 80 per cent of Yemen’s population were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. On Wednesday, the UN’s World Food Programme said that Covid-19 is contributing to a “perfect storm” of problems that could throw millions of Yemenis into a deeper food crisis.

Last week, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella group of the UK’s 14 leading aid charities, launched an appeal to support people in seven of the world’s most fragile places: Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh – where about 850,000 Rohingyas live in the world’s largest refugee camp.

A four-year-old girl poses for a picture in a camp for internally displaced people in Yemen. She came to this camp with her family after fleeing the war in their home in Al-Hodaieda governorate. She has a friend in the camp who loves face-painting the other children. With no schooling available to them, the children find creative ways to pass their time and make small amounts of money where they can

So far the appeal has raised £14m – but living through the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, people in Yemen are in need of all the help they can get.

In Yemen, DEC members are already responding and say that many families have lost almost all means of accessing food. In a country that imported 90 per cent of its food even before the war, the ongoing financial crisis and restrictions on imports by warring parties have resulted in massive increases in prices.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in Yemen on 10 April and as of 22 July there were 1,623 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 448 deaths. The DEC says it believes these are huge underestimates due to a lack of testing capacity and labs, and reports of people dying before reaching health facilities. An aid worker at a DEC charity said that he was misdiagnosed with dengue fever back in April because people didn’t believe there was coronavirus in the country – leading him to miss out on urgent medical treatment and fall into a coma for 10 days. Fortunately, he survived.

A boy poses for a picture in a camp in Yemen. He fled the war with his family in Taiz governorate. They have lived in the camp for more than two years and lack all of the most basic essentials, including food, clean water, toilets and access to healthcare

In the city of Aden, government burial statistics showed that 80 people were dying in the city per day in mid-May, up from 10 a day before the outbreak.

Saleh Saeed, DEC’s chief executive, said: “First came the war and destruction, then came the hunger and cholera and now the deadly threat of coronavirus making the situation unbearable and the hunger even worse. Some have simply accepted their fate and die quietly at home.”

He thanked the public for donations to the DEC appeal for the seven places it is prioritising. “The UK public have once again demonstrated their generosity and compassion. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported the DEC coronavirus appeal so far, helping us to raise over £14 million.”

To donate to DEC’s coronavirus appeal, visit its website.

Sood Ahmed, 80, sitting inside her tent in an IDP camp near Aden. She fled the war with her family when it reached their homeland in Al-Hodeida governorate. She has been living in the camp for more than two years now
Taghreed, a mother of four, fled the war from her village in Taiz governorate, with no source of income. She said that her husband can no longer find work because of the coronavirus and she is no longer receiving any food assistance
Daughters of Taghreed in the camp where they live
A boy stands in the unfinished school next to the camp where he lives, near Aden
A man with a walking stick in the yard between newly built tents and an unfinished school building that is being used as a shelter
Children play cards in a camp in Yemen
Children are shown how to use masks to avoid spreading Covid-19
Gameel hasn’t been able to work for four months because of the coronavirus lockdown and struggles to access healthcare and food assistance in the camp
Two cousins collecting water from a storage tank in Al-Baytarah camp
An aid worker in Ibb gives a man some hand sanitiser

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