Yemen has been home to a devastating, protracted conflict since it was swept up in political uprisings as part of the Arab Spring in 2011. The country has been torn apart by violence, particularly since the start of the Civil War in 2014 which is ongoing today. There are over 30 fronts across Yemen and fighting is carried out by various armed domestic groups, as well as there being significant involvement by regional powers, particularly the Saudi-led coalition.
Conflict, Crisis and Covid in Yemen: a Deadly Combination
Yemen has been home to a devastating, protracted conflict since it was swept up in political uprisings as part of the Arab Spring in 2011. The country has been torn apart by violence, particularly since the start of the Civil War in 2014 which is ongoing today. There are over 30 fronts across Yemen and fighting is carried out by various armed domestic groups, as well as there being significant involvement by regional powers, particularly the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition has been accused of carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes in Yemen, killing thousands of civilians. European countries, including the UK, are complicit in the violence, through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and suspected further technical involvement.
The Yemen crisis does not just refer to the severity of the armed conflict, but also to its devastating humanitarian impacts. It is agreed by many, including the UN, to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. On top of casualties from the fighting, an untold number of Yemenis have died from further effects of the conflict. Yemen is a country of around 29 million people and the UN reports that 24 million depend on some kind of humanitarian help. There have been extreme shortages of food, water and medicine, leading to ongoing famine and waterborne diseases; an estimated 30% of infrastructure has been destroyed including homes, schools and hospitals by bombing, and the provision of humanitarian aid itself has been weaponised in the conflict. Yemen has been described by UNICEF as a ‘living hell’ for children – hundreds of thousands of whom are fighting for their lives. Over 12 million children were already in danger, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, further threatening their lives.
Impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic
The country’s first confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded on the 10th April, 2020. Recent statistics from Yemen report just over 2000 cases and around 600 deaths. However, the country has limited testing capacity and authorities in the north of Yemen have been accused of obscuring the real impact of Covid in the territory under their control. It is therefore difficult to assess the true impact of the disease. It has been found that the Covid mortality rate is particularly poor in Yemen - the average Covid mortality rate around the world is less than 4%, but in Yemen it is estimated that nearly 30% of people that contract the virus have died from it. Furthermore, the pandemic has added a new and significant stress on a health system already devastated by war. According to reports by Human Rights Watch, over half of Yemen’s health facilities are closed or only partially functioning, as a result of medical facilities and personnel being targeted in the conflict.
On the other hand, according to some analyses, Covid-19 has barely registered in the minds of Yemeni civilians, who were already at significant risk of other serious diseases such as cholera, measles, diphtheria and dengue, and experiencing severe rates of malnutrition. The pandemic is only one of many health concerns for Yemenis, a perspective which itself highlights the gravity of the humanitarian crisis.
How UNICEF is helping
UNICEF is on the ground in Yemen, working tirelessly to protect Yemeni children by delivering life-saving aid. To combat widespread malnutrition amongst children, UNICEF has delivered thousands of tonnes of nutrition supplies for children and also supports nutrition centres. UNICEF provides psychosocial support for children affected by the fierce conflict, and educates children on issues such as the risks of mines. The staff work to combat the rapid spread of deadly diseases in Yemen, where at least 1 child dies every 10 minutes from preventable diseases. Furthermore, UNICEF is providing school and also distance learning opportunities to children in Yemen whose access to education is severely inhibited.
However, in each area of UNICEF’s response there remains a lot of work to do, and the situation is worsening.
How you can help:
Donate to protect children in Yemen: https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/yemen-crisis/