Bishop Hinder speaks about the possible impact of the COVID-19 virus on a country battered by five years of war, with no health facilities to stem the epidemic. The war is making many young people "sad and depressed”; more than half are afraid of "playing outdoors".
Sana'a (AsiaNews) – After five years of a brutal civil war, there is great concern about the “possible spread of the coronavirus” in Yemen, which “would have a devastating effect" on the country and the civilian population, this according to Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia.[*]
Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate stressed that the country “has no health facilities to deal with an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic”, nor “any prospects for peace" at present.
Whilst “it is true that Yemen’s population is relatively young and less at risk than the peoples of Europe, which are older,” the effects of the coronavirus outbreak are already felt in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. What is more, “there is no institution that can counteract the effects of the virus” in the country.
For the prelate, hope lies “with the impact of the epidemic on the war,” but since “it is hard to get reliable information from the country, it is hard to see any peaceful solution on the horizon.” Perhaps, the epidemic “could create a new situation, offer the various parties an excuse to withdraw and work together.”
The Arab nation, the poorest in the Arab Peninsula, slipped into civil war after Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sana'a, in 2014. The conflict between the Saudi-backed government and rebels got worse in March 2015 when a Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened militarily.
The fight between local groups has turned into a proxy war, killing so far about 90,000 people and displacing a million, in what is currently the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with around 24 million Yemenis (80 per cent of the population) in need of humanitarian assistance.
Concerns about a coronavirus outbreak are compounded by the war’s psychologic impact, especially on young people. A study released today by Save the Children found that five years of war have had a devastating impact on the mental health of the population, with many children on the verge of a depression.
More than half of the 1,250 young people (13 to 17) surveyed felt “very sad and depressed" and for more than one in ten said that this feeling is "permanent". The study was conducted in the southern provinces of Aden, Lahi and Taiz.
About one in five of those surveyed said they always felt "fear and sadness". About 52 per cent of respondents said they didn’t feel safe when they were separated from their parents; 56 per cent felt the same when they walk outside alone. The children are "terrified" and "afraid to play outdoors".
For experts, the novel coronavirus represents a potentially devastating blow to the Arab country; for this reason, it is essential to "end the conflict”.
As evidence of the problems the country’s health system faces, Médecins sans frontières (MsF) recorded at least 40 violent incidents between 2018 and 2020 involving the MsF-supported Al-Thawra hospital in Taiz.
“Our humanitarian space is threatened by the repeated violations committed by the different warring parties in Taiz,” said Corinne Benazech, MsF Operations Manager in Yemen.
Yet, “Every day, medical staff make courageous decisions to continue to provide healthcare despite the risks, for the benefit of Yemeni patients dependent on this care,” she added.
[*] United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen.