The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned its actives in Yemen are near a “potential breaking point” as the new coronavirus is spreading throughout the impoverished country, where the healthcare system has effectively collapsed amid a bloody Saudi-led war.
“We are reaching a potential breaking point in our program, where if we don’t receive further funding soon, many of our program and particularly our cash assistance program to internally displaced Yemenis may have to stop,” UNHCR spokesman, Charlie Yaxley, said at a virtual briefing on Tuesday.
“We are seeing a growing number of families resorting to harmful coping mechanisms such as begging, child labor and marrying of children to survive,” he added.
Yaxley highlighted that the UN refugee agency offers a cash assistance program to some one million internally displaced people in Yemen, who rely on the money for food, medicine and shelter.
Separately, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday that it had received around 15 percent of the funding required for the $3.38 billion 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen.
“The humanitarian situation in Yemen could spin out of control as COVID-19 threatens a population already weakened by years of conflict,” World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said at the same briefing as well.
Byrs added that the novel coronavirus pandemic was threatening food imports.
The “WFP expects coronavirus to push many more children in Yemen into acute malnutrition,” she added, saying over 2 million children were already suffering from the problem.
On May 22, the UN rang alarm bell that Yemen’s health system “has in effect collapsed” as a result of the Saudi-led military campaign and tight naval and air blockade imposed on the country.
“Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA, told a briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva at the time.
“We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming; they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed,” he said.
Aid workers report having to turn people away because they do not have enough medical oxygen or sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, Laerke pointed out.
The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in the Yemeni provinces controlled by Saudi-sponsored militiamen loyal to former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has increased to 233 as health authorities confirmed 11 new cases on Monday.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to bring Hadi back to power and crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.
More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed during the war by the Saudi-led coalition, which is supported militarily by the UK, US and other Western nations.
At least 80 percent of the 28 million-strong population is also reliant on aid to survive in what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.