Yemen: virus adds to world’s worst humanitarian crisis

By: AFP      Published: 01:04 AM, 11 Apr, 2020
Yemen: virus adds to world’s worst humanitarian crisis
Vehicles drive past a popular public square, which was destroyed late 2017 in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition, in the capital Sanaa on April 9, 2020.–AFP

Yemen, which Friday announced its first coronavirus case, is wracked by a war which has killed tens of thousands and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.

The war between Huthi rebels and pro-government troops escalated in March 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the rebels who control large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa.

Civilians on front line

Over the past six years, tens of thousands of people—mostly civilians—have been killed in the conflict, according to aid organisations.

More than three million people have been displaced within Yemen, living in camps.

Amnesty International said in December 2019 that some 4.5 million people living with disabilities are faced with growing difficulties in the country.

In the worst cases, the disabled people are left behind by their families after being separated while fleeing their homes, it said in a report.

Collapse of health system

Aid organisations have on several occasions over the past months warned of the country’s ailing health system and the risk of the spread of the coronavirus.

Yemen is “critically under-equipped” to face the pandemic, said Xavier Joubert, country director for Save the Children in Yemen after the first case was announced.

“Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are still fully functional,” said Joubert.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has said Yemen’s healthcare system has all but collapsed, said in January it was concerned that many Yemenis have no access to clean water or soap.

The country has also been ravaged by cholera, which has killed more than 2,500 people since April 2017.

Around 1.2 million suspected cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Lost generation

The UN children’s fund (UNICEF) says two million of the country’s children of school age go without education in Yemen, of whom half a million left school after the conflict escalated in 2015.

Across the country some 10.3 million children are suffering from food insecurity, of whom 2.1 million are suffering from acute malnutrition, according to the UN.

According to Cluster Sante, which groups international NGOs and UN agencies, nearly 1.2 million children have been stricken by cholera, diphtheria or dengue fever over the past three years.

‘Worst’ humanitarian crisis

Long the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest nation, Yemen is the scene of “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, according to the UN.

More than two thirds of the population -- 24 million people—require humanitarian assistance.

‘War crimes’

In September 2019, investigators appointed by the UN Human Rights Council pointed to “war crimes” committed  by all sides in the conflict.

“There are no clean hands” in the conflict, said one of the experts, Charles Garraway.

If confirmed by an independent and competent court, many of the violations identified “may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes,” the experts said in a statement.

They listed air strikes and shelling, starvation as a method of warfare, killings, torture and sexual violence, and recruitment of child soldiers as crimes being committed with impunity.

In February, the Saudi-led coalition said it was launching legal proceedings against soldiers suspected of abuses during attacks in Yemen.