Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is getting even worse as a nightmare scenario plays out before our eyes. COVID-19 is devastating an already extremely vulnerable population as violence and airstrikes peak, and humanitarian aid programs collapse due to a lack of funding. In May, more than half of bombings where the target could be identified, hit civilians or civilian infrastructure. 

Tamuna Sabadze, Yemen Country Director at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said,

“What we are seeing in Yemen is unlike any tragedy witnessed before. COVID-19 is ripping through the country. We can’t even say how many people have it, because Yemen’s health system has effectively collapsed, and the country has extremely limited testing capacity. However, modelling suggests millions of Yemenis will become infected with a worst-case scenario of up to 85,000 deaths. At the same time, conflict is ramping up again, the value of the Yemeni riyal is plummeting, and other diseases like cholera and dengue are spreading. All this at a time when aid agencies are being forced to suspend life-saving assistance due to shortfalls in funding.

“Humanitarian actors are increasingly overwhelmed by the needs and appalled by the lack of available funds to help us save lives. The recent humanitarian funding appeal fell $1 billion short of its target. As COVID-19 spreads, the impact of this funding shortfall is being felt now. Already, 10,000 healthcare workers have lost salary payments, and 80 percent of hospitals providing reproductive health services to pregnant women have had to cut these programs, leaving more than 2 million women and girls of childbearing age at risk. The UN has been forced to shut or reduce operations of 75 percent of its programs. More than 8 million people, including 3 million children, will lose access to water and sanitation services by the end of June. In a country ravaged by food insecurity, 2.5 million malnourished children will lose nutrition support in July and August. Yemenis need our help more than ever, and yet, the world is turning its back.

“What’s worse is that the world’s richest countries have contributed to this catastrophe. The US, UK, France and others continue to supply weapons to the Saudi-led coalition for use in this horrible conflict which continues to kill innocent people and devastate health facilities and schools. It is vital that those responsible for violations of international law in Yemen are held to account. 

“Two critical steps are needed to reduce the suffering of Yemeni civilians. First, a nationwide ceasefire should be implemented immediately. The efforts of Martin Griffiths and the UN must be supported by all warring parties and their partners. Second, flexible funding for life-saving humanitarian programs must be increased and delivered without delay. While bombs and airstrikes continue, we cannot control the pandemic and address the humanitarian needs of Yemenis. It is time the world wakes up and acts.”

The IRC is supporting a COVID-19 isolation unit and other health facilities with protective gear and proper water and sanitation services. We are training health workers in clinics and in our mobile health teams to identify COVID-19 symptoms and safely isolate and refer suspected cases. Our mobile health teams are distributing critical, accurate information to Yemenis to inform them about the disease, how to protect themselves and where to get treatment should they fall ill. We are also continuing critical life-saving health and nutrition work for children, continuing reproductive health care for pregnant and lactating women, providing cash to those who need it most, and providing support services for women who have experienced violence. 

The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled our programming in 2015 to address greater humanitarian need caused by the conflict. While the ongoing conflict and restrictions of air and seaports create challenges to our operations, the IRC has maintained access to affected populations and continues to provide life-saving healthcare, economic empowerment, women’s protection and empowerment, and education programming.

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.