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Starvation, new fighting and second wave of COVID-19 as the war in Yemen enters its seventh year.

23 March 2021

Oxfam's country director in Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquey, testifies that people are facing a terrible choice: to stay and risk their lives and those of their children, or to flee into the desert where there is no water or food.

Hanan from Yemen sits in their temporary accommodation in the Ammar bin Yasser refugee camp in Yemen. Next to her is her daughter Radhia

Photo: VFX Aden/Oxfam

"We lived in constant fear. We heard the roar of bombs outside, pieces of shells and exploded objects flew into our house. We were afraid our children would be hit, so we fled," says Hanan, who now lives in the Ammar bin Yasser refugee camp with her two daughters.

The war in Yemen has created the world's biggest humanitarian disaster.

The UN warns that the country is facing one of the worst hunger crises in history and intense fighting in Marib province is now threatening to displace nearly 400,000 people. The upcoming rainy season, expected to start in May, is also causing an increased risk of cholera, which, combined with COVID-19, will overburden the country's healthcare system, which has already largely collapsed after six years of war and economic crisis. Only half of Yemen's health facilities are operational, despite the fact that the violent fighting and the largest cholera outbreak in modern times have created enormous healthcare needs. Many health workers have gone without pay for months and there are only 700 intensive care beds and 500 ventilators for a population of 30 million.

"Millions of people in Yemen are on the edge of a cliff. Now COVID-19, cholera and the fighting threaten to push them over the edge. Across the country, people are struggling against intensified fighting and a second wave of COVID-19. Many do not seek medical attention when they develop symptoms because they cannot afford it. The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating rapidly and I am hearing daily about new tragedies where people have died from COVID-19-like symptoms without receiving treatment."

Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam country director in Yemen.

The intensified fighting that may now force more people to flee could lead to an increased spread of the coronavirus. An escalation of violence around Marib, where most IDPs have sought refuge, is one of the major humanitarian threats Yemen faces as it enters the seventh year of the war.

Over four million people have so far been displaced by the conflict. Over 24 million of Yemen's population are in need of humanitarian aid, half of whom are children.

Making a choice

"People are facing a terrible choice: to stay and risk their lives and those of their children, or to flee into the desert where there is no water or food. Across the country, people are struggling to cope with a second wave of COVID-19 and intensified fighting. I hear horrific testimonies of children being killed, homes being bombed and people being forced to flee," said Siddiquey.

Yemen's official COVID-19 statistics show 6109 cases of COVID-19 and 1176 deaths, giving a mortality rate of almost 20% - one of the highest in the world. But with poor testing and widespread reports of illness and death, the actual death toll is undoubtedly higher than that. The first doses of the vaccine were delivered to the country at the end of March, but the need remains high.

"People fleeing missiles and bullets face a daily struggle to survive disease and poverty. Yemenis have suffered for six long years, it is time for the world to say enough is enough. Peace is possible if governments put human lives first," said Muhsin Siddiquey.

The operation in Yemen is one of Oxfam's largest. We are there to provide people with clean water, cash grants and food vouchers. We are also supporting people to find jobs and generate income, for example with training and support for small entrepreneurs.

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