As we mark six years since the international escalation of war in Yemen, intensifying conflict, a wave of COVID-19 and a fuel crisis push families to the brink.
A second wave of COVID-19 is already underway in Yemen, Oxfam warned today, with a 22-fold increase in recorded cases in recent weeks. The spike in COVID-19 cases comes alongside renewed fighting, which could force hundreds of thousands of people to flee to find safety.
The figures indicate a sharp rise in the number of people being admitted to healthcare facilities with severe symptoms. Considering that tests for COVID-19 are only administered to people admitted to healthcare facilities, the positivity rate indicates that that many more Yemenis are suffering from COVID-19 at home – and are unable to access or afford treatment that could save their lives.
So far no one in Yemen has been vaccinated, although the country is expecting to receive vaccines later this month.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said, “Many people don’t go to the hospital when they have symptoms – even where treatment is available, many cannot afford medical bills. With little testing, we can’t quantify the true scale of the problem, but we do know that COVID-19 is accelerating fast. Every day I learn of more people who have died of COVID-like symptoms without receiving medical attention.”
“Yemen is at a tipping point – millions of people are already at the precipice. Now COVID-19, cholera and an intensification of the conflict threatens to push them over.”
The arrival of the rainy season - expected in May - could see a renewed threat from cholera, which combined with COVID-19 will overwhelm a health system already battered by war and economic collapse. Many healthcare staff have been unpaid for months while there are just 700 ICU beds and 500 ventilators for a population of 30 million. The country has struggled with cholera since the world’s worst outbreak began five years ago with more than 2 million suspected cases.
Oxfam said it was concerned that by forcing people to flee for safety, the recent surge in fighting will speed the spread of the virus around the country.
The escalation in hostilities around Marib, where a number of COVID-19 cases have been reported recently, is one of a number of worrying recent developments. Fighting has also renewed around Taiz, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Aldhale’e, where residents have experienced airstrikes and shelling. Unrest in Aden has also interrupted some public services.
The UN estimates 1.2 million people have fled to Marib, which until recently was considered relatively safe and hosts the largest internally displaced population in Yemen. Local officials have told Oxfam they think the UN figure is an underestimate and as many as 3 million people are actually displaced in the area. Since February, more than 11,000 IDPs in Marib have been displaced again, with some entire camps forced to evacuate. Many have been displaced four or five times as the frontlines of Yemen’s war have shifted.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “People in Marib are desperate - they face a stark choice between staying put risking their lives and their children’s lives or fleeing into the desert where there is no water or food. Children are being killed, houses in residential districts are being hit by shelling and people being forced to flee.”
The situation across northern Yemen is being further impacted by the latest uptick in the cyclical fuel crisis. Following the Houthis’ diversion of revenues from the Hodeidah Central Bank and increasing control over fuel markets in northern Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the internationally recognized government have refused to allow fuel to enter Hodeidah, the import gateway for most of Yemen’s people. The rising cost of fuel, food and other necessities is having a crippling impact on what necessities families can afford to survive and reducing the availability of critical goods and services. Fuel should be permitted to enter the country and should be made available to all Yemenis immediately.
Despite this huge level of need, Yemen’s aid response is more than 50 percent underfunded. Earlier this month the UN held a donor pledging conference asking for $3.85 billion but received less than $1.7 billion - less than what was received in 2020 and $1 billion less than the amount pledged at the 2019 conference. Many aid programs have already been forced to scale back, leaving many without the life-saving aid they need.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “Even people who escape the missiles and bullets face a daily struggle to survive in the face of disease and destitution. Yemenis have suffered for six long years – it is time for the world to say, enough.
“This is a man-made conflict and these deaths are avoidable. With efforts from the UN Envoy and a recommitment to peace from the new US administration, the international community must seize this moment to collectively pressure all sides to end the suffering. Peace is possible if governments put lives ahead of politics.”
Notes for editors:
- Case studies from Marib available: https://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/?c=41626&k=d6107efac2
- Yemen 2021 Humanitarian needs overview: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Yemen_HNO_2021_Final.pdf
- Yemen COVID-19 data: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality
- Covid Vaccine distribution: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/
- 2018 Hodeidah displacement figures : https://www.iom.int/news/yemen-hudaydah-displaced-population-now-estimated-336846
- Recent displacement data: https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/situation_reports/file/en_iom_yemen_displacement_in_marib_flash_update_5_11_march_2021.pdf
- Local officials estimate 3 million IDPs in Marib: https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/iom-yemen-displacement-marib-flash-update-23-february-2021
- Between April 2017 and December 2018, there were over 1.3million suspected cholera cases and 2,760 associated deaths in the country –one of the worst outbreaks in recent history.(UN YHNO –December 2018)
- The World Health Organisation reported an increase in suspected cholera cases in 2019, with over 861,000 suspected cases and 1025 associated deaths recorded: http://yemeneoc.org/bi/
- Between January 1st and June 30, 2020 there have been 150,849 suspected cases recorded: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2019_Yemen_HNO_FINAL.pdf