Paris – With the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in most countries around the world, as of 26 March, 2020, the virus has killed over 22,000 people and infected over 480,000 others. Fear is growing that the epidemic could spread through Yemen as the country enters its fifth year of war. Years of conflict has deteriorated the humanitarian situation in an unprecedented way and if the virus takes hold, it could wreak more havoc on an already vulnerable nation.
Despite having no confirmed cases of coronavirus, years of conflict and targeting of health facilities and infrastructure have contributed dramatically to pushing the country’s health system past breaking point. Yemen suffers from a severe shortage of food and medicine supplies too. Accordingly, the World Health Organization warned that if the coronavirus were to break out in Yemen, the consequences would be catastrophic.
Since 2014, Yemen has witnessed a bloody conflict between government forces and the Ansar Allah group, “Al Houthi”. The conflict escalated when a coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) intervened and launched its strikes against the “Al Houthi” group on March 26, 2015.
The coalition intervened in Yemen at the request of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, with the aim of restoring the internationally recognized government to power after Houthi militias capitalized on Sana’a, along with most of the northern governorates and some of the southern ones.
Several Arab countries joined the coalition, but most of them withdrew later. However, the United States and Britain provided the coalition with logistical support and accelerated weaponry deals.
The coalition operations sparked a full-blown armed conflict in Yemen. Over the following five years, the conflict spread to all countries and saw a proliferation of a number of militias and armed groups supported by the coalition.
Amnesty International stated that the UAE has trained and financed various armed groups, and therefore contributed to the proliferation of unaccountable militias, such as the “Security Belt” and “Elite Forces”.
Yemen’s Fragile and Damaged Health System
Five years of a deadly war has damaged Yemen’s health system and crippled the country’s ability to respond to any potential outbreak of coronavirus. According to international reports, Yemen lacks simple preventive medical supplies in health institutions and half of which have been used or affected by the war.
Yemen does not have a minimum degree of preparedness to confront a new global epidemic, even advanced countries with huge financial capabilities and strong health systems are struggling to fight the disease.
Fears grow over the potentiality of undetected cases of COVID-19 in Yemen, where many epidemics and deadly diseases, such as cholera and malaria, have claimed hundreds of lives over the past year.
The United Nations said that more than half of health facilities in Yemen are out of service as a result of the five-year war and that 19.7 million people need health care across the country.
The United Nations said on 29 February, 2020 that the Yemeni war led to the displacement of an estimated 4 million people.
According to the International Organization for Migration, many of the displaced people in Yemen living outdoors are exposed to health problems due to the cold weather and lack of basic and health supplies such as drinking water.
Yemen also hosts more than a quarter of a million refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia, most of whom live in precarious and desperate conditions.
In light of the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of other epidemics and diseases in Yemen, the country is in dire need for an urgent and extensive humanitarian response. Furthermore, greater support and assistance is essential in aiding Yemen’s crippled health system after half a decade of war.
The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) believes that the coalition countries have a magnified responsibility in providing the necessary humanitarian assistance to all civilians in Yemen, especially health support and enabling hospitals to confront this epidemic in the inevitable event that it arrives.
AFDH said, “Now it is the time for real and serious international intervention to end the war led by a Saudi–UAE–led coalition, as its forces have committed violations amounting to war crimes against civilians in Yemen over the past five years”.
In the report, AFDH stated that the atrocities and acts of violence committed against civilians are in violation of international law and humanitarian law in Yemen. An international mechanism is required to ensure justice for all victims and all parties of the conflict must be held accountable.
“The Saudi-led coalition must fulfill its international legal obligations to investigate violations against Yemeni civilians, and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed there and bring them to international justice”. AFDH concluded”.
AFDH reiterates its call to stop the supply to any warring party in Yemen directly or indirectly with weapons, ammunition, military equipment or technology that can be used in the war, in addition, logistical and financial support should be cut should warring parties be found supplying weapons.