Yemen hit by third wave of Covid as millions on the brink of starvation

Three sisters in the camp they fled to with their parents.

Three sisters in the camp where they have been living since fleeing their home with their parents. They have little food and lack water, toilets and access to healthcare. Photo: Alaa Aldwaley/DEC

Yemen has been hit by a third wave of Covid-19, as access to vaccinations and adequate healthcare remains out of reach for most of the population. The ongoing conflict has also brought millions to the brink of starvation as they can no longer afford to buy food. DEC charities are providing food, clean water, hygiene kits and access to healthcare with funds from our Coronavirus Appeal.

In the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, 20 million people – two-thirds of the population – were already in need of humanitarian aid before the coronavirus pandemic. In the last month, DEC charity Oxfam reports a three-fold increase in Covid cases and a five-fold increase in the death rate, with only 1% of Yemenis vaccinated against the virus. The actual numbers of cases and deaths are likely to be much higher than reported as testing capacity is poor, meaning many go unregistered. 

“The conflict shattered the dreams of Yemeni people… and then came Covid-19,” says Basheer Al-Selwi, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a local partner of DEC charity British Red Cross. “We don’t have adequate data, but we’ve been supporting the Covid-19 centre in Aden and we know that Covid is increasing, compared to earlier in the year and last year. A lot of people are dying because of Covid – it’s spreading, and it will continue to be here.”   

“Covid has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals”  

Yemen already faced serious health challenges before coronavirus emerged with outbreaks of cholera and widespread malnutrition, particularly among children. Half the country’s health infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, medicines have been in short supply and 80% of health workers have not received salaries for four or five years.  

“Covid-19 has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals after seven years of this devastating conflict,” says Basheer. “We’ve been assisting 83 hospitals and health facilities across the country, most specifically in areas such as Sana’a and Mar’ib, where thousands of people have fled due to the conflict and are putting huge pressure on health services.”

Taghreed, a mother of four, in a camp where they lack basic facilities.

Taghreed, a mother of four, fled the war from her village in Taiz and has been living in a camp that lacks basic essentials like food, water, toilets and healthcare. Taghreed’s husband was unable to work due to coronavirus and she has been struggling to access food. Photo: Alaa Aldwaley/DEC

People fear hunger more than Covid  

“Right now, Yemenis are most afraid of hunger,” says Basheer. “An old man named Mahyoob told me that it’s better to die of Covid-19 than to die of hunger. He said, with Covid-19 you might have to suffer for one or two weeks before you die; with hunger you are suffering for years.”   

Before Covid-19, many Yemenis were dependent on family members working overseas and sending them money but the pandemic forced them to leave their jobs, while in Yemen shops and companies closed, leaving households without a source of income. Around 16 million people in Yemen are now food insecure. As food prices soar, so does their dependence on humanitarian aid.  

  “I know about a teacher, Mohammad, who went to buy rice and sugar for his family. He told the vendor that he would pay later, when he had some money, but the man wouldn’t let him. Imagine, he was with his two children, they were hungry and were looking at the food, but they couldn’t buy any. And then we heard soon after this that the teacher had died.”  

Cousins aged 7 and 11 collecting water from a water storage tank.

Two cousins, aged 7 and 11, collect water from a storage tank in the camp where they have lived since they fled the war from their village in Taiz. Photo: Alaa Aldwaley/DEC

DEC charities are providing lifesaving aid 

Since launching our Coronavirus Appeal in July 2020, DEC funds have been helping our member charities to provide clean water, food, hygiene kits and access to healthcare across Yemen. In recent months, Oxfam has trained local community health volunteers in Saa’da to promote Covid and cholera prevention practices while in Hajjah, DEC donations have funded hygiene kits and improved access to clean water. 

DEC charity Tearfund has been raising awareness about Covid-19 in Taiz and providing emergency food and livelihood support to those affected by the pandemic. This includes providing seeds for farmers to grow their own grains and training local solar technicians to harness sustainable energy for their communities, with 40% of graduates being women. 

In Lahj governorate, the British Red Cross is supporting primary health centres and providing psychological support to displaced communities through its local partner. Save the Children UK has delivered child protection programmes in the region with DEC donations and provided thousands of people with health and nutrition services. 

DEC charities continue to provide lifesaving aid across Yemen including in Ma’rib governorate, which has seen intense fighting this year and is now home to Yemen’s largest displaced population. 

The future is uncertain for millions 

“There are so many people who can’t do anything because of the conflict and because of Covid,” says Basheer. “They are forced to go begging in the streets and to sell their homes. It’s a dire situation for millions of people across this country. The present and the future is uncertain for millions of Yemeni people. You wait for a miracle to happen, but miracles don’t happen anymore.” 

Coronavirus is escalating in Yemen, adding yet another layer of crisis to people already in dire need. Please donate to our Coronavirus Appeal to help vulnerable communities in Yemen and seven other countries survive the pandemic.  

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