Yemen: World’s Crisis Hotspot Teetering Between Hope And Despair

The six-year rift between the Iran-backed Houthis forces and the Saudi-led coalition has ravaged the Arab Nation, leaving it at the brink of economic and health crises. 

Often being classified as home to the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, Yemen has witnessed a depletion in healthcare resources and a surge in the number of health-related fatalities.

A decade-long crisis in the Arab Nation has exposed its civilians to perpetual starvation and a plethora of diseases. Accompanied by Yemen’s crippled healthcare system, procurement of proper medical care is non-existent for many civilians.

The six-year rift between the Iran-backed Houthis forces and the Saudi-led coalition has ravaged the Arab Nation, leaving it at the brink of economic and health crises. 

The economic woes of the poorest nation of the MENA region cannot be ignored. Lack of basic services, acute shortages of basic amenities, unavailability of safe water, and massive outbreaks of diseases, especially during 2020, have had a devastating impact on civilians. 

The war has led to the collapse of the economy and destroyed livelihoods, to an extent where the citizens can no longer afford food to eat, neither fuel to travel, nor medical care. 

Malnutrition at the doorstep

The UN has estimated that 24.3 million people in 2020 were “at-risk” of hunger and disease, of whom roughly 14.4 million were in acute need of assistance. 

Approximately, 20.5 million Yemenis lack access to safe water and sanitation and 19.9 million are without adequate healthcare. As a result, Yemen has been grappling with mass outbreaks of preventable diseases, such as cholera, diphtheria, measles, and dengue.

More than 40% of Yemeni households who already find it difficult to even buy the minimum amount of food, may have also lost their primary source of income. Poverty is worsening: whereas before the crisis it affected almost half Yemen’s total population of about 29 million, now it affects an estimated three-quarters of it — 71% to 78% of Yemenis. Women are more severely affected than men.

By the end of 2020, about 40% of households reported poor or borderline consumption.

The hike in food prices has led to mushrooming of various other subsidiary issues, majorly affecting women and children. Disruptions in Humanitarian aid pertaining to healthcare, water, sanitation, food assistance, financial support, and nutrition has been devastating for children, and women, especially expectant mothers.

Malnutrition is increasing among children, majorly under the age of 5, and women, who have been skipping meals to provide food to their families.

In war-torn Yemen, 10.3 million children are facing food shortages. In just the southern half of the country, 587,573 children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition, including nearly 100,000 on the brink of starving to death.

The situation in the north is also perilous. A dramatic increase in food prices has affected the ability of families to feed their children, leading to an increase in cases of malnutrition and the potential risk of famine.

Malnutrition also makes children vulnerable to myriad secondary diseases, which can turn fatal, if left untreated. Children weakened due to the lack of essential nutrients, and unable to access proper health care can have life-threatening consequences if contracted with diseases such as diarrhea, measles, or respiratory infections.

“The world must not accept that children continue to die from hunger, disease, and war,” Xavier Joubert, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said.

Hunger in Yemen is an entirely human-made legacy of this war, and the increase in child malnutrition levels around conflict lines shows the impact of this brutal conflict on children, he added. 

Covid outbreak

The existent dire situation of the Yemeni civilians was worsened with the arrival of the COVID-19 virus. The rebel Houthi forces have labeled the pandemic as a hoax, and have been criticized for being reticent regarding the COVID cases in the Northern region of Yemen.

“The deliberate decision of the Houthi authorities to keep the real number of cases of COVID-19 under wraps and their opposition to vaccines are putting Yemeni lives at risk,” said Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page.

Meanwhile, deterioration in the nutrition status of the civilians makes them more vulnerable to viral infections. Poverty and water shortage have also left the war-torn country susceptible to many diseases. Many of the Coronavirus infections go unreported due to scarce testing, limited resources, and government secrecy. Restrictions to access COVID-19 data in Yemen have also made it impossible to track COVID-related fatalities.

Crippled healthcare

The healthcare system across the nation has collapsed since the beginning of the war. Many public sector staff, including medical workers, haven’t been paid for years. War-induced fatalities, accompanied by diseases, and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the health care system of Yemen to plummet.

The country is experiencing a shortage of medicines, drugs, and vaccines for the treatment of various diseases. A decline in vaccine coverage has resulted in the outbreak of various diseases including Cholera, Diphtheria, and Measles. Additionally, due to an increase in fatalities among civilians, hospital beds are also unavailable to them.

The rise in economic hardship also prevents many Yemenis from seeking medical care. This delay in seeking care may have dire consequences, especially for children and pregnant women.

“Years of conflict have taken a massive toll on the health system in Yemen. Only half of the country’s health facilities remain open and still lack essential items to be fully functional — water, fuel, and oxygen amongst others,” said Tania Meyer, World Bank country manager for Yemen.

S.O.S Yemen

Due to a surge in prices, humanitarian aids are the sole provider of Yemen’s food Crisis. Houthis as well as Saudi-led Coalition’s restrictions on Humanitarian aid have put millions of Yemeni lives at risk.

Many of the health complications can be easily avoided with the provision of basic services at the primary healthcare level.

“If the UN’s predictions are correct,” said Janti Soeripto, President and CEO of Save the Children, “the worst famine in decades could kill hundreds of thousands of children. We must do everything we can to prevent this from happening.”

Earlier in March 2021, Yemen’s health minister, Qasem Buaibeh, had requested the Arab nations to support the weakened healthcare infrastructure of the war-torn nation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Saudi Arabia had stepped up to provide aid to the ailing nation. Under King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, (KSrelief), an initiative to support nutrition for children under five, pregnant women and nursing mothers were provided with medical and nutritional services, with approximately 10,794 beneficiaries in one week in Yemen’s governorates of Aden, Lahij, Taiz, Hodeidah, Hadramout, Hajjah, and Marib.

Medical teams assessed 2,349 children and 486 individuals suffering from severe malnutrition, and 673 suffering from moderate malnutrition were treated. Medical services were provided to 402 children to prevent malnutrition.

A total of 1,102 pregnant and nursing women were assessed, and treatment services were offered to 330 female beneficiaries.

Nearly 2,000 women benefited from the services of Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI), and 2,584 (women) benefited from awareness-raising activities, and 872 from counseling.

Saudi Arabia has also assisted in providing basic amenities to Yemenis in the wake of the pandemic.

More than 230,000 liters of drinking water and 808,000 liters of water for other purposes were pumped into tanks, and 82 loads of waste were removed from camps (for displaced people) to disposal sites in Hajjah.

Almost 100,000 liters of healthy drinking water and 40,000 liters of water for other purposes were pumped into tanks in Saada, benefiting 20,000 individuals.

Meanwhile, KSrelief distributed almost 2,700 food baskets to families in the White Nile, Sudan.

Nearly 1,000 food baskets were distributed in Al-Salam, benefiting 5,820 individuals, as well as 700 food baskets in Al-Jabalain, benefiting 4,200 individuals, and 1,000 food baskets in Rabak, benefiting 6,000 individuals.

“The lives of thousands of children and women are at stake,” said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. “Acute malnutrition can be treated and prevented with a package of key services but for that, we need urgent action and support. A great sense of urgency should prevail in making the necessary financial resources available and ensuring access to children and women in dire need of assistance.”

“The worsening nutrition situation flagged in this latest analysis highlights the urgent need to ensure that every Yemeni girl, boy, woman, and man has access to a healthy and diverse diet now and in the future,” said Dr. Hussein Gadain, FAO Representative in Yemen.

This means building, restoring, and sustaining food systems in Yemen by immediately expanding efforts to protect people’s livelihoods and enabling them to produce, sell and consume diverse and nutritious foods even during times of extreme crisis, he said. 

“The vicious cycle of conflict and hunger in Yemen is exacting a terrible toll on those”

The World Bank had also guaranteed a $20 million grant package to support Yemen’s national COVID-19 response and vaccination campaign. This is termed as the first additional financing to Yemen’s COVID-19 Response Project (YCRP), bringing the World Bank’s total contributions to $47 million.

This package is composed of $9 million from International Development Association (IDA), $7.76 million from the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and $3.25 million from the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund (HEPR).

The World Bank has also agreed to provide additional resources to support some of the deployment costs for administering vaccines to at least 1.3 million people.

Yemen’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign began in government-held areas on April 20, using the first shipment of 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme.

Although various international organizations have stepped up to provide the war-torn country with basic amenities, yet the funding for humanitarian aid still remains insufficient.

“WFP needs $1.9 billion in 2021. Donors have so far stepped up with approximately $937 million,” WFP spokesperson in Yemen Annabel Symington said.

The WFP feeds more than 12 million Yemenis, around 80% in areas held by the Houthis, who ousted the internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.

Yemen’s $3.85 billion 2021 humanitarian response plan stands only 43% funded. read more

“That’s not adequate to get through the rest of this year,” David Gressly, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said.

“We went through a major effort to scale up, particularly on the food assistance and malnutrition side… It needs to be sustained or the gains we are seeing now will be totally lost.”

The Civilians have borne the cost of the war between the allies of the Government and the rebel groups. Restoration of health care and livelihoods, surplus food, safe water, and access to proper sanitation seems like a distant dream for the Yemenis.

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