Over two weeks since USAID suspended aid in northern Yemen, aid groups are renewing their call for the major donor to reconsider its decision, especially in light of the now confirmed threat 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 Covid-19 virus knows no borders. As we have seen elsewhere, without urgent action it will spread rapidly and devastate Yemen,” said Norwegian Refugee Council’s Yemen Country Director Mohammed Abdi. “In these extraordinary times, we are calling on the US government to stand in solidarity with Yemenis. Now is not the time to cut funding. COVID-19 is hitting a country with few defenses and a population already weakened by hunger and other diseases. Without support millions of displaced and conflict-affected Yemenis who rely on aid as their lifeline, and who remain at high risk will be left to their fate. At this critical time, we also need the Yemeni authorities to provide safe and unimpeded access throughout the country so that we can provide life-saving aid, and scale up activities to combat the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable.”
Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead, Scott Paul added, “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. 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.”
Over 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.
“These USAID cuts are being felt acutely already, said Aisha Jumaan, Founder & 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.”
Humanitarian access is an ongoing challenge and we continue to see unacceptable interference in aid delivery by regional and national parties. The organizations call on authorities, including Ansar-Allah, also known as the Houthis, and the internationally recognized government, to allow aid agencies to reach vulnerable families in Yemen without interference and in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law. The organizations also call for USAID to take a more collaborative approach, especially now as the stakes have been raised.
Jehan Hakim, Chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, said “To save lives now, and looking forward, we must see commercial and humanitarian goods allowed into Yemen; we need a political settlement allowing social services to resume; we need to see an end to the cruel economic warfare that has paralyzed the country and taken countless lives. Safe access for the humanitarian response, the free flow of vital commercial and humanitarian goods, and a commitment to peace are more important than ever.”
With eighty percent of Yemenis relying on aid and Ramadan right around the corner, Yemen is in dire need of more aid, not cuts. Aid is critical to save lives in Yemen, especially in the face of this unprecedented global pandemic, but aid alone will never be a sustainable solution. The organizations continue to call for a political solution and nationwide ceasefire to give Yemeni families the chance to focus on staying healthy, and to rebuild and recover in the long-term. Saudi Arabia’s announced ceasefire is a good start, and we now must see all parties commit to peace and to finally put the people of Yemen first.