After Five Years of Siege & War, Yemen Faces COVID-19

2.1 million children in Yemen are acutely malnourished

By Stephen Bell

The Red Cross reports more than 80% of Yemen’s 29 million residents are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, the new threat of Covid-19 awaits the country.  The strength of the Saudi imposed siege has delayed its arrival.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported no cases by March 24. But its arrival is inevitable. Yemen’s belligerent neighbour, Saudi Arabia, reported 562 cases by March 23rd, with its first death on March 24th.

Precautions being taken amidst poverty and conflict

The Sana’a based National Salvation Government’s Health Minister, Taha al-Matawahel, reported this week that in the area under their control, all educational institutions, cafes, and wedding halls are closed.  Public events, including press conferences are postponed.  But al-Matawahel also stated that as a result of the war, 93% of the country’s medical equipment is out of service.

The Aden based, and Saudi-backed, Government of National Accord spokesperson said that all schools in the area they control are closed for a week.  An indicator of the lack of resources available to them came when he revealed that the WHO had issued them $4million to combat the virus.

In Sana’a, two quarantine centres have been established; one is at Sana’a airport and another at the nearby Zayed Maternity and Children’s Hospital.  The Sana’a government reopened a factory in the city in early March.  This factory employs 160 women who are now sewing 16,000 protective face masks a day. The Sana’a government is monitoring arrivals from abroad, but the WHO has only been able to provide 400 tests.  Spokesperson for the Technical Committee for Combating Corona, Abdulhakim Al-Kuhlani told Al Masirah channel, “We suffer from a shortage of ventilators due to the direct and indirect targeting of the health sector for 5 years by US-Saudi aggression”.

Covid-19 approaches fertile ground

The two governments are co-operating on the issue, but indirectly, through the WHO.  The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Office official Abd al-Nasser Abu Bakr said they expected “an explosion in the number of coronavirus cases in Syria and Yemen”.  Certainly the existing humanitarian crisis in Yemen offers plenty of support for such an assessment.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports more than 80% of Yemen’s 29 million residents are already in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. The population “lacks food, fuel, drinking water and access to health care services which makes it particularly vulnerable to diseases that can generally be cured or eradicated elsewhere in the world”.  This has already been demonstrated by the waves of cholera which have led to Yemen suffering the worst outbreak in history.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported an estimated 19.7 million Yemenis “lack access to basic healthcare”.  The war has led to the closure of half of the local clinics.  Malnutrition has further weakened the immune systems of many Yemenis. 2.1 million children are acutely malnourished.  Save the Children has previously reported that up to 85,000 children, under the age of 5, are likely to have died of starvation between 2015 and 2018.

All of Yemen’s existing economic difficulties have been exacerbated by the war. The bombing campaign has had an impact upon access to drinking water and sewage disposal.  Large numbers of the population in urban areas are dependent on water trucks.  In rural areas Yemenis walk miles to obtain water. Yemen is dependent upon imports for 90% of its food staples, yet it is under siege by the Saudi coalition.

And the war continues

On March 24th, a spokesperson for Sana’a based Yemen Army and Popular Committees stated that since 2015 the Saudi military alliance has carried out some 257,882 airstrikes in Yemen. The US based non-profit research organisation Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) estimates that 100,000 lives have been lost in the conflict.

Yet the Saudi led coalition is no further advanced in achieving its military goals than it was in the summer of 2015. In fact, the coalition has recently suffered major military setbacks in Al Jawf province and the Nehm district. The coalition is fragmenting with new reports of armed conflict between Southern Transitional Council forces and those of forces around ex-President Hadi.

The continuing ruthlessness of the Saudi/UAE forces has been highlighted by the release of a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 25th March.  The eastern al-Mahra province is the second largest province in territory, and is currently under Saudi/UAE occupation. In May 2018 a peaceful protest sit-in was launched by the local population against the “Saudi occupation”.  According to HRW, since that time the protestors have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture, and illegal transfers to Saudi Arabia.

And this week, Save the Children issued the results of a survey conducted amongst children, aged 13-17, carried out in three Yemeni regions. More than half the children surveyed said they struggle with feelings of sadness and depression. And one in five said they were always afraid and grieving. This is a snapshot of a country where two million children have been forced from their homes, and two million children are out of school.

Time to lift the siege and end the war!

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has issued a call for a ceasefire in all conflicts worldwide to allow international cooperation against the virus. The Yemeni people also need for the siege to be lifted in order to receive international assistance. The Saudi coalition could not continue the war without the military and political support of the US and British governments. To date, these two governments have failed to force the Saudis and UAE to change course.

A simple example of what needs to be done was offered by the German government on Monday 23rd March when it renewed its ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  Now is the time for the British government to enact such a ban, remove all British military personnel from the Saudi command centre, and BAE personnel from Saudi Arabia.

Yemen does not deserve a catastrophic dose of Covid-19.  It does deserve an end to the invasion, and urgent medical assistance.

The above article was originally published by the Stop The War Coalition.