Yemen, already pushed to the brink of famine by a five-year war, could see a “catastrophic” food security situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and lower remittances from the Gulf, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday.
Some 80 percent of Yemen’s population are reliant on aid and millions face hunger.
“The health system was already under heavy stress and will now be overwhelmed if COVID-19 continues to spread and in addition it will affect the movement of people and the movement of goods,” Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, the FAO’s assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa, told Reuters.
“That situation could be really catastrophic if all the elements of worst case scenarios come to be but let’s hope not and the UN are working on avoiding that.”
Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus are likely to impact humanitarian supply chains keeping a large part of the population fed, the UN agency said in a report on Monday.
The legitimate government has reported 128 COVID-19 infections with 20 deaths in areas under its control. The Iran-backed Houthi militias have announced four cases in areas under their control with one death, both in Sanaa.
“Reports on the ground indicate a large number of coronavirus cases in areas under the Houthis’ control and hiding this information is completely unacceptable,” Minister of Local Administration Abdul Raqib Fath told a news conference on Sunday.
He urged the World Health Organization and the international community to pressure the Houthis about declaring cases.
The WHO said last Monday the virus was circulating undetected in Yemen, increasing the likelihood of a devastating outbreak among a malnourished population that would overwhelm a shattered health system with limited testing capacity.
The Aden-based government’s health minister said Yemen urgently needed financial assistance and protective gear for health workers in addition to ventilators, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and swab test equipment.
There are currently 15.9 million Yemenis classified as food insecure out of a population of some 28 million.
The FAO does not currently have an estimate as to how much bigger that number could get if the disease continues to spread but it continues to monitor the situation.
The United States said on May 6 it would provide $225 million to the World Food Program (WFP) for Yemen, including for reduced operations in the north.
The WFP had said it would halve aid in Houthi-held areas from mid-April over donor concerns that the militias are hindering aid deliveries.
The FAO said Yemen would also be hit by an expected decline in remittances from Yemenis in Gulf countries, which amounted to $3.8 billion in 2019.
“This is a significant source of income for the country that may be considerably reduced,” Ould Ahmed said.
United Nations envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said on Thursday that “significant progress” has been made toward cementing a temporary truce prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and to pave the way for a resumption of stalled peace talks.