As the world marks the fifth anniversary of the conflict in Yemen, CARE Yemen Country Director Aaron Brent addresses the threat of COVID-19 and the potential impact the virus will have on humanitarian aid.
How is COVID-19 affecting Yemen?
So far in Yemen, thankfully there are no confirmed cases. However, the entire country has been closed off as a prevention measure. That means that all entries and exits out of air, sea or land routes have been closed. Yemen is effectively divided into to two parts because of the war – in the northern part there is one group of authorities, in the southern part there is the internationally recognized government – and the crossings between those two areas have also been closed.
Yemen was already one of the most isolated places in the world. The Sana’a international airport has been closed for about four years now with only humanitarian flights allowed in. Yemenis, unfortunately, are very used to living in an isolated state compared to any other country in the world, so these effects aren’t as drastic for them, because they have been living the exact same thing the whole world is going through now for the past five years.
However, the fact that now they can’t move between the north and south of the country will definitely have a big effect, because there are families that live on both sides and that means they can’t get back to their family and will be stuck one way or another. The authority’s measures are appropriate – they’re in line with what other countries are doing – but that doesn’t erase this extra hardship on top of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis for the country.
What will these travel restrictions mean for CARE programming and individual family’s lives?
It will have a massive effect, especially because the majority of CARE’s work is lifesaving humanitarian aid. Any type of movement restriction that is going to affect the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver that life-saving aid is going to be catastrophic.
One of our biggest programmes, in partnership with the World Food Programme, are monthly food distributions to the most vulnerable and needy people. These are people who are on the edge of famine and they depend on these general food distributions to stay alive. So, if those are impacted, it will have a huge and immediate impact on people.
This is a population where there are an estimated 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, even before the current COVID-19 situation, so Yemenis are already vulnerable. They have gone through five years of total isolation, had to undergo the impacts of multiple outbreaks of cholera – and are still in the midst of one right now. We’ve also experienced dengue fever and a diphtheria epidemic in the past yearsso COVID-19 is coming on top of all these.