There are still no reported cases of coronavirus, COVID-19 in Yemen. But watching the invisible tsunami crashing through countries, and creating a global health crisis and economic catastrophe, we are preparing for landfall in Yemen, already one of the most fragile countries on earth
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 mediation 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 report 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 fewer than 50 percent of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics fully operational, and most lack qualified staff, medicine, and often even electricity.
A country at war
The question is how can we prepare, respond, and recover in a country at war?
On 25 March, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a ceasefire in Yemen to help avert a COVID-19 disaster. This was followed by the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths 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 their 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 policies to ensure Yemen’s swift and effective response.
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:
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--supplying 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 help to buy much needed supplies, rehabilitate critical infrastructure, and deliver equipment. To reach across frontlines, we will work to empower and strengthen local governance through financial and technical support while boosting civil society partnerships to ensure effective service delivery.
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.
UNDP is already supporting containment strategy efforts of authorities and WHO to slow the virus’s spread by introducing additional measures within UNDP and our programming.
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. It is essential that we protect those in prison, the internally displaced and others living in congested areas.
UNDP is working with authorities and implementing partners to scale up existing programming in these areas throughout Yemen.
Stimulating the economy
Yemen already suffers 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 programmes and to develop new ones as we remain committed to creating jobs through our projects, increasing support to small and medium businesses, supporting local value chains such as 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.