COVID-19: Silencing Yemen’s weapons may help save millions from Coronavirus

April 1, 2020

Photo by: UNDP Yemen

Aden, Yemen - There are still no reported cases of the Coronavirus in Yemen. But watching the invisible Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) tsunami crashing through countries – creating a global health crisis and economic catastrophe – we are preparing for landfall in Yemen.

With COVID-19, Yemen will face a new, merciless enemy that will be unbeatable if the armed conflict continues. It will threaten the fragile gains made, making the world’s worst humanitarian and development crisis even more dire. Ending the fighting now will allow for a UN-led mediated process to end the war and will help prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in an already tenuous environment.

The protracted conflict has decimated what was already a very weak health system. An outbreak would overwhelm it, with the most vulnerable hit the hardest. UNDP Yemen’s Impact of War studies show that, by the end of 2019, the conflict had thrust Yemen’s development back by 21 years and delayed achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 31 years. The conflict has left less than 50 per cent of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics fully operational, and most lack qualified staff, medicine and often electricity.

The question is then: How can we prepare, respond, and recover in a country at war?

On 25 March, the UN Secretary-General called for a ceasefire in Yemen to help avert a COVID-19 disaster. This was followed by the UN Special Envoy for Yemen encouraging the warring parties to act now as “Battlefields are dividing Yemen and making it harder to combat the possible outbreak of COVID-19.”

All the warring parties responded positively; however, follow-through will be what saves potentially millions of lives. Everyone must put differences aside, stop the fighting and coordinate efforts to help mitigate COVID-19’s deadly spread. There must be local, national and international coordinated public health policy actions to ensure Yemen’s swift and effective responses.

UNDP has learned from disease outbreaks and past pandemics that enable us to develop effective responses focused on the most vulnerable groups that are driven by solidarity, science, and human rights. For COVID-19 in Yemen, we are contributing to the UN response through preparedness, mitigation, and recovery by delivering in four pillars:

1.       Strengthening the first line of defense

Strengthening health systems, supply chains, doctors and nurses at the front lines of defense is key. Protecting heroic health workers – including access to face masks and protective clothing – and strong partnerships with authorities will help ensure Yemenis have equal access and treatment to healthcare.

Led by the UN Resident Coordinator and the World Health Organization (WHO) – and in coordination with the authorities – UNDP will support procuring much needed supplies, rehabilitating critical infrastructure, and delivering critical equipment. To reach across frontlines, we will work to empower and strengthen local governance actors through financial and technical support while boosting civil society partnerships to ensure effective service delivery.

2.       Flattening the curve

Learning from global experiences, this is most effective when allowing for social distancing, working from home, closing schools, and postponing large gatherings of people.

UNDP is already supporting containment strategy efforts of authorities and WHO to slow the virus’ spread by introducing additional measures within UNDP and our programming.

3.       Protecting now and in the future

To enable a faster recovery, we must strengthen social protection by extending the coverage of existing programmes including food aid, direct cash transfers, cash-for-work, and public work schemes. Essential to this will be protecting prison populations, IDP settlements and other congested areas from COVID-19 spreading.

UNDP is working with authorities and implementing partners to scale up existing programming in these areas throughout Yemen.

4.       Stimulating the economy

Yemen is already suffering from a collapse of economic infrastructure, unpaid salaries, and a lack of jobs.

UNDP will rely upon our World Bank, European Union, and other partnerships to expand existing and to develop new programmes as we remain committed to creating jobs through our projects, increasing support to Small and Medium Enterprises, supporting local value-chains like farming, and strengthening public-private partnerships.

To help ensure COVID-19 does not become another disaster in Yemen, the war must stop now. With its tidal wave barreling down on Yemen’s shores, we must all rally around the common goal of defeating the virus.

Yemen can no longer wait.