The coronavirus pandemic threatens to bring “deeper and more widespread suffering” in Yemen, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said, calling for an end to the country’s conflict.
“Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time: a war and a pandemic,” Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Thursday.
“The new battle that Yemen faces in confronting the virus will be all-consuming,” he said. “We can do no less than stop this war and turn all our attention to this new threat.”
Yemeni government forces, together with allies and rebels known as Houthis, have been fighting over control of the impoverished nation for more than five years, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the UN said. Roughly 80% of the population relies on aid relief.
“The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic to Yemen threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people,” Griffith said. “There cannot be a more timely moment for the two parties to commit to silencing the guns and ending the conflict through a peaceful, political solution.”
Griffiths has been “in constant negotiations” with the two sides on proposals for a nationwide ceasefire and on key measures, such as prisoner release, paying civil servant salaries, and opening roads for humanitarian access, the UN said in a statement.
Nonetheless, hostilities have continued and civilian casualties have been rising every month since January, according to the UN. More than 500 people were killed or injured during this period, a third of them children.
Five years of fighting have degraded the country’s health infrastructure, exhausted people’s immune systems and increased acute vulnerabilities, said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.
“As a result, epidemiologists warn that Covid-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries,” he said.
Precautions to reduce the risk from Covid-19 are being hampered by “bureaucratic roadblocks, insecurity and restrictions on staff and cargo movements,” the UN said. Funding is another impediment, as 31 of the UN’s 41 major aid programs in Yemen will shut down in the coming weeks, if they are not supported.
Lowcock said he is worried about the loss of health teams that have been essential in containing past disease outbreaks. “We need these teams more than ever – not just to keep on top of Covid-19, but to contain a growing risk that cholera will rebound as the rainy season starts,” he said.