UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday asked for 2.41 billion U.S. dollars to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which remains the world‘s largest, as well as COVID-19.
“Tackling COVID-19 on top of the existing humanitarian emergency requires urgent action. The pandemic is making it even more difficult and dangerous for humanitarian workers to reach Yemenis with life-saving aid,” Guterres said during an online pledge conference for Yemen.
“We must preserve the major humanitarian aid operation that is already under way — the world’s largest — while developing new public health programs to fight the virus and strengthen health care systems,” he said, adding “we have already made a start, supporting rapid response teams across the country, procuring essential supplies, and working with front-line health workers and communities to get information out to millions of people.”
“But we need to do much more. This requires increased funding,” he emphasized.
So far this year, funds have not been forthcoming. Aid agencies estimate they will need up to 2.41 billion dollars to cover essential aid from June to December, including programs to counter COVID-19. More than 30 out of the 41 major UN aid programs in Yemen will have to close in the next few weeks unless there is extra funding, he said.
“I thank those donors who pledged funding ahead of today’s event, and I urge all of you to pledge generously today, and to transfer pledged resources quickly. There is no time to lose,” he added.
Eighty percent of the Yemeni population, or 24 million people, need life-saving aid, and 2 million Yemeni children are suffering from acute malnutrition. Since the start of the year, some 80,000 more people have been forced from their homes, taking the total displaced population to almost 4 million, he said.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Yemen on April 10. The pandemic poses a terrifying threat to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, weakened by years of conflict, and with a health system that is already on the brink of collapse.
Since then, reported cases are in the hundreds and are highly likely to be undercounted, since testing rates are some of the lowest in the world. There is every reason to believe that community transmission is already under way across the country. Reports indicate that in Aden, mortality rates from COVID-19 are among the highest in the world, he said. “That is just one sign of what lies ahead, if we do not act now.”
Only half of Yemen‘s health facilities are operational. There are shortages of testing devices, oxygen, ambulances and basic protective equipment. Many health care workers are among those who have contracted the virus. Even hospitals that are operational and equipped may not have a reliable electricity supply, he noted.
Public health measures are particularly challenging in a country where trust in the authorities is weak, and half of the population do not have access to clean water to wash their hands, he said.
In addition to COVID-19, cholera continues to threaten the lives of Yemenis, with 110,000 people contracting it so far this year. Meanwhile, the recent floods have raised the risk of malaria and Dengue fever, he noted.
Ending the war is the only way to address the health, humanitarian and human development crises in Yemen. Civilian casualties have risen each month this year, and more than 500 people have been killed or injured since January, he said.
He repeated his call on all parties to agree on the UN proposal to achieve a nationwide cease-fire, make progress on economic and humanitarian measures to alleviate suffering and build confidence, and resume an inclusive Yemeni-led political process.