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Press Release

As COVID-19 is confirmed in Yemen, the IRC calls for improved aid delivery

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Today, Yemen—the world’s largest humanitarian crisis—confirmed its first case of COVID-19. As Yemen enters its sixth year in a war that has devastated the health care system, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for increased funding and humanitarian access to help mitigate spread of the disease. The IRC urges warring parties to honor the ceasefire and provide humanitarian and health actors with the unfettered access they need to reach all those impacted by the virus.

With more than half of Yemen’s health facilities no longer functioning and 18 million people without access to proper hygiene, water and sanitation, Yemen is ill-equipped to handle an outbreak like this. The IRC has been preparing for the spread of COVID-19, training health care workers to recognise the disease and safely isolate and treat suspected cases. 

Tamuna Sabedze, Yemen Country Director at the International Rescue Committee, said: 

“While we knew this was coming, still, the spread of COVID-19 to Yemen is a nightmare scenario.  Fighting has decimated the Yemeni health care system. Many doctors and nurses have already fled the country and many health clinics have been destroyed in the fighting, so even fewer Yemenis will have access to health care. 

“Millions of Yemenis live in cramped and unsanitary areas, vulnerable to contracting the virus. It is vital that the warring parties honor the ceasefire they’ve committed to and extend it past the initial two-weeks announced. All impediments to the delivery of aid must end immediately and parties must create the conditions in which aid agencies and other health actors can save lives from Coronavirus.

“Humanitarian organisations are being prevented from reaching those in need – not just due to active conflict, but also to longstanding bureaucratic constraints and new restrictions put in place to contain the virus. There must be exceptions for humanitarian staff and supplies. Measures to halt the disease will be counter-productive if they prevent life-saving aid from reaching those in need. 

“Countries that enable this war, especially the US, UK and France, must pressure the parties to enact a permanent ceasefire and agree to peace talks that will ultimately lead to a diplomatic solution and end to this brutal war. We need bold, coordinated diplomacy to expand the delivery of humanitarian assistance and an increase in flexible funding to help us reach as many people in need as possible. With more funding deployed quickly, to pay health workers and purchase needed equipment and drugs, we can mitigate some of the worst impacts of this outbreak.”

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.

The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled our programming in 2015 to address greater humanitarian need caused by the conflict. While the ongoing conflict and restrictions of air and seaports create challenges to our operations, the IRC has maintained access to affected populations and continues to provide life-saving healthcare, economic empowerment, women’s protection and empowerment, and education programming.

For more information on the potential impacts of COVID19 on crisis-affected countries, please read the IRC’s recent report, COVID-19 in humanitarian crises: a double emergency.

To schedule interviews, please contact Kellie Ryan at Kellie.Ryan [at] rescue.org

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.