Aid groups in Yemen push for USAID to pause its program suspension

Families that have fled fighting in Hudaydah are living in this camp for displaced people. Oxfam and the Ability Foundation have provided cash to 500 of the 3,000 people in this area. Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Imminent threat of COVID-19, ongoing war, and fragile health system raise worries for people caught up in conflict.

Two weeks after the US Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended aid programs in northern Yemen, humanitarian groups are renewing their call for it to reconsider its decision. Since the US decision, there is now a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country.

Yemen Relief & Reconstruction Foundation, Yemeni Alliance Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam are collectively urging USAID to pause its aid suspension to ensure Yemen has all possible resources to prevent and respond to COVID-19. Without urgent and sweeping action, the aid groups warn that COVID-19 could quickly spread and overwhelm Yemen’s fragile health system.

“The spread of coronavirus just as aid to parts of the country is reduced could be catastrophic for millions of people already living on the brink,” says Oxfam’s Country Director Muhsin Siddiquey. “Over 17 million people have no access to clean water. For millions of Yemenis who are living in crowded camps and shelters, social distancing and frequent handwashing are extremely difficult.”

More than five years of war have decimated Yemen’s health system and left its small corps of health workers without facilities, medicine, and supplies. Yemeni families have borne the brunt of the conflict, and now face this global pandemic with low immunity due to widespread malnutrition and diseases like cholera, dengue, diphtheria and other health threats. At a time when Yemen’s health sector and other public service providers need more support than ever, these aid cuts are going into effect.

“Only half of Yemen’s health centers are functioning, and there are widespread shortages of medicine, equipment, and medical staff,” Siddiquey added.

Oxfam is also asking its supporters to sign a petition that calls on USAID to suspend its aid cut in northern Yemen.

Aid crucial for survival

Any reduction in humanitarian aid has dire implications for nearly 80 percent of Yemen’s population that is now in need of assistance.

“I will find it very challenging to provide food, [medical] treatment, and other needs,” says Ahmed, who spoke with Oxfam staff in Hajjah, in northwest Yemen. He is currently getting water from a system repaired by Oxfam, and receives wheat flour from the World Food Programme. Mater, currently in Amran, told Oxfam “If organizations cut aid, we will be severely affected. It will be a grave burden on the displaced. There is no other source of income…Oxfam has helped us with small livelihood projects, which enable us to meet a small portion of our needs, but that alone won’t be enough.”

“These USAID cuts are being felt acutely already," said Aisha Jumaan, the president of Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation. “Just this week, the UN ended its support powering Al-Thora Hospital in Hudaydah, which provides services to over 600,000 people. Cutting energy for a key hospital as temperatures and risk of COVID-19 rise is a true recipe for disaster. We must see full support for medical facilities, as well as full access and free flow of humanitarian and other commercial goods into Yemen to prevent a true humanitarian catastrophe.”

“This aid suspension means crucial time lost in terms of providing life-saving health care, hygiene and other aid that are at the core of the global COVID-19 response,” says Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Scott Paul. “As we’ve seen around the globe, early and aggressive action is the only approach to prevent COVID-19’s worst effects, and yet USAID has decided to stop some of the core programs in Yemen that can save lives. Right now, more than ever, every day and every dollar counts.”

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