First Official Cases of Coronavirus and Deadly Flooding Mark Ramadan in Yemen
|May 01st, 2020|
Health officials tell MintPress that flooding has impeded coronavirus prevention measures in a country already devastated from five years of Saudi bombing that has left 70 percent of its health facilities destroyed.
ADEN, YEMEN — In northern Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition has so far offered little reprieve to civilians during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Several regions — including Marib, al-Jawf, Beydha, and Sadaa, — have been under almost constant aerial bombardment and the continued violence is not the only thing making the lives of civilians in Yemen’s difficult this Ramadan
In southern Yemen, a region whose provinces have been under Saudi-led coalition occupation since 2016, the price of food and medicine is skyrocketing. Civilians in Lahj, Abyan, Hadhramout, and Aden are already struggling against an unprecedented famine and cholera epidemic and the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both members of the coalition waging a war on Yemen, has worsened on the ground.
In Aden, dozens of people die every day after experiencing shortness of breath, fever, and a sore throat – all common symptoms of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, according to doctors there. The city’s Al-Waly Hospital closed after an unknown epidemic swept through a number of areas. Hospital administrators told MintPress that patients were experiencing symptoms similar to those associated with the coronavirus, but the cases could not be confirmed due to a shortage of tests.
Many civilians fear that the Saudi-led coalition has been actively covering-ups of coronavirus infections after a string of mysterious deaths hit Aden’s hospitals. Medical authorities with the Hadi-led government recorded the city’s first two coronavirus deaths on Wednesday after confirming five new cases. Despite this, the coalition-backed government that runs the city has not imposed quarantine and families and friends still gather to pray, break their fast, and make social visits.
Flooding of Biblical proportions
All this comes as the city was recently declared a disaster area due to the torrential rain that began two weeks ago and caused deadly floods across Aden’s districts, including Sirah, Tawahi, and Al-Areesh. At least 70 homes collapsed in the central Crater district, nearby Khormaksar, as well as Sheikh Othman and Tawahi, and dozens of residents, were killed.
Franz Rauchenstein, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Sana’a described the urgency of the situation, saying that “Yemenis cope with so much hardship every day. Ongoing fighting in parts of the country causes daily despair, seasonal infectious diseases claim thousands of lives each year and high inflation is affecting the price of food, medicine, and other basic goods. Covid-19 is one more worry for people who are already so vulnerable.”
The floods were not just confined to Aden either. Scenes of mudslides, floods sweeping the streets, submerged cars, damaged homes, and power outages were witnessed in many of Yemen’s cities, including Sana’a, Thamar, Hajjah, and Mahwit provinces. The flooding came just as local authorities were rolling out prevention measures to contain the coronavirus. UNHCR spokeswoman ShabiaMantoo told a virtual press briefing in Geneva that the recent torrential rain and flooding has impacted more than 100,000 people across the country.
Health officials told MintPress that the floods have impeded coronavirus prevention measures and preparations in the country, which is already devastated from five years of Saudi bombing that has destroyed 70 percent of its health facilities. A statement by the General Directorate of the National Centre for Public Health Laboratories in Aden said the laboratory was forced to shutter after the city was hit by floods causing electricity outages and water cuts.
Before the flooding began, the World Health Organization’s in Yemen said that teams were working to bolster the country’s battered health infrastructure before the spread of coronavirus began in the country, yet flooding has all but eliminated any gains they’ve made. The Coalition forces administrating most of the country’s eastern provinces, those hardest-hit by the floods, have also done little to address the looming crisis.
Anger from Aden’s residents over the lack of response from the Saudi-led coalition has even spilled into the streets, where hundreds of protesters cut off several roads and burned tires in the street. They also set fire to government buildings, including a building belonging to the government’s statistics office in the Tawahi area.
Aden, where temperatures are extremely high in summer, has suffered from a lack of essential services since 2016 when the Saudi-led coalition occupied the coastal city. Even today, after nearly five years, the city still suffers from rolling blackouts and constant outages.
Poverty, poor sanitation, and the lack of electricity in the city also heighten the risk for a particularly deadly outbreak of COVID-19, especially in the wake of the deadly flash floods. Health officials have also warned that stagnant water from the flooding could also lead to mosquitos that may carry infectious diseases, including cholera and dengue fever. In Sana’a, 1,000 cholera cases were reported in one ICRC-supported hospital this week alone.
“An extra layer of vulnerability”
Meanwhile, in Ma’rib, Hajjah, and in the capital city of Sana’a, the flooding has destroyed the tents of thousands of people living in camps for internally displaced peoples. The ICRC said that many recipients of ICRC aid last month have found themselves once again in need of urgent assistance.
The United Nations refugee agency says nearly one million internally displaced people in Yemen risk losing their shelter due to torrential rains and seasonal floods, warning of a dire lack of funding at a time when the county is already threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The UN has raised the alarm that the funding shortfall threatens critical aid for nearly one million displaced Yemenis and refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that some $89.4 million is urgently needed in the coming weeks to keep life-saving aid programs running in Yemen.
UNICEF has appealed for an additional $92.4 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa, with Yemen being a top concern, according to Ted Chaiban, the regional chief of UNICEF. “It was already critical to address the needs of children in Yemen. With Covid-19, now you’ve got this extra layer of vulnerability,” Chaiban told The Associated Press.”
If fears over coronavirus were not enough, simmering months-long hostilities have reignited after the Southern Transitional Council, a militant organization backed by the United Arab Emirates, declared “emergency rules” in Yemen’s southern provinces. In August 2019, heavy clashes erupted between Saudi Arabia and UAE-backed militants when the latter captured Aden, killing and injuring hundreds civilians and forcing thousands of families to flee. But the fighting stopped in November 2019, when the two sides signed a Saudi-brokered agreement to end their power struggle in southern Yemen.
On Wednesday, members of the UNSC issued a statement expressing their concern that the STC’s actions “could distract from the efforts of [UN] Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to secure a nationwide ceasefire, confidence-building measures, and the restart of a Yemeni-led and owned inclusive political process.”
Feature photo | People walk as health workers fumigate a market amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus in Sana’a, Yemen, April 30, 2020. Khaled Abdullah | Reuters
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.