Yemen on the brink: ‘We must prevent a catastrophe from happening’

A man walks between makeshift shelters in Yemen

A man walks between makeshift shelters in a displacement camp near Aden, Yemen. Image: Alaa Aldwaley/DEC

When the pandemic struck, Yemen had already suffered through six years of civil war, leaving 20 million people struggling to access enough food every day. Only half of healthcare facilities were operational.

While there are clues that Covid-19 has hit Yemen hard, it is hard to tell the true picture. The government has downplayed the pandemic and there is very little testing, leading to the number of cases and deaths to be chronically underreported.

By February 2021, there were just 621 confirmed deaths in the country, but a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study of satellite images of graveyards estimated that there were 2,100 more deaths than expected between April and September 2020 in the city of Aden alone - a 60% increase on normal levels. (For comparison, the UK has seen around 21% more deaths than expected over the course of the pandemic so far.)

But the secondary effects of the pandemic may be even worse than the impact of the virus itself. Covid-19 has worsened Yemen’s economic meltdown, costing people jobs at the same time that food prices have risen sharply. This in turn has led to worsening rates of hunger and malnutrition, raising fears of famine.

Two girls fill a jerry can at a water tank

Cousins Hadia*, 7, and Gamila*, 11, collect water from a water tank in a camp for displaced people near Aden, Yemen. Image: Alaa Aldwaley/DEC

Aidan O’Leary, Head of UN OCHA in Yemen, says: “Due to conflict and macro-economic deterioration, the situation in Yemen was bad. Covid is taking it to a different level. We are on the verge of famine and we risk being in a very serious famine in six months’ time."

A recent survey of senior aid workers in Yemen by the DEC found that all agreed that the humanitarian situation there was the worst it has been for the entire duration of the war, and that without increased funding thousands would die from hunger.

But at the same time as needs are increasing, international aid funding is falling, forcing aid agencies to make the heartbreaking decision to cut healthcare services and food distributions.

Yousra Semmache from Save the Children Yemen says: “We must get enough funding so that we can respond and prevent a catastrophe from happening.”

Yemen is one of the seven priority places where funds from our Coronavirus Appeal are being spent by DEC charities. In the first three months of the response, 51% was spent on food assistance, 27% on water, sanitation and hygiene services and 19% on health and nutrition services.

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