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A doctor checks a malnourished newborn baby inside an incubator at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen on June 27, 2020. Coronavirus restrictions on movement have blocked the distribution of aid, along with the stalling of salaries and price hikes.
Hani Mohammed/AP
Food & Hunger

Fear of Hunger Surpasses COVID-19 Concerns for Desperate Yemenis: Survey

Why Global Citizens Should Care: 
The Yemeni people were already living through the worst humanitarian crisis in the world prior to the COVID-19 crisis. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations are calling on world leaders to end the war so that the country can recover from its various crises. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Faced with an ongoing civil war, a worsening pandemic, and dwindling humanitarian aid, Yemeni citizens are desperately trying to keep food on their family’s tables, according to a new survey by the International Rescue Committee.  

The survey found that 62% of respondents cannot afford basic things like food and water, 30% have seen declines in income, and 68% have seen rising commodity prices. As a result, people are taking drastic measures to procure food, like sending their children out to work or beg.

“With COVID-19 spreading unchecked, a serious reduction in humanitarian funding, and increasing fighting and airstrikes, Yemen is experiencing a triple emergency,” Tamuna Sabadze, Yemen country director at the IRC, said in a statement. “This survey brings to life the terrible economic impacts COVID-19 is having on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable."

“Those surveyed indicated their top concerns are rising food prices and the loss of their income, even more than getting sick, showing that for many vulnerable people, the economic impact COVID-19 is having on people’s lives is causing more harm than the disease itself,” she added. 

Yemen has ranked as the worst or one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world for several years by the IRC. The country has faced constant bombings on key infrastructure like ports and hospitals, food shortages driven by the conflict, and infectious disease outbreaks. The economy has been devastated, plunging millions of people into poverty.

The arrival of COVID-19 has exacerbated these overlapping crises. An estimated 538 people have died from coronavirus since April in Yemen and 1,893 cases have been confirmed, the World Health Organization reports. The true toll could be far higher considering the lack of testing and healthcare throughout the country. 

The indirect consequences of the pandemic may be greater. More than 3.2 million people are facing acute food security that threatens their health, and more than half of all Yemeni children under the age of five could be malnourished by the end of 2020, a health emergency that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

“In order to feed their families, respondents indicated they have had to take on debts which they cannot afford to repay, reduce the amount of food they are consuming, sell off assets like land or livestock, and some have even had to send their children to work or to beg,” Sabadze said in the statement. 

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The IRC and other humanitarian organizations are working to ensure emergency food aid is delivered to Yemenis in the months ahead. But the only way to meaningfully address the worst humanitarian crisis in the world is to end the bombings and violence that disrupt daily life.

On Aug. 25, the United Nations Security Council is meeting for an update on the crisis. The IRC is calling on the leaders gathered to reach a ceasefire negotiation. Only then, will there be an opportunity to ease the suffering of a population beaten down by years of war. 

“Without an immediate end to this war, Yemenis will continue to suffer at the hands of a conflict they want nothing to do with,” Sabadze said. “This war is a stain on the global conscience and must be brought to an end now to avert further disaster. The Yemeni people want peace — to be able to raise and educate their children so they can have a better life free from war, violence, and disease.”