Health organizations say millions of Yemenis lack access to clean water, soap amid spread of COVID-19

A number of health organizations working in Yemen have warned that millions in the war-torn country do not have access to clean water or soap risking their lives in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Caroline Siegen, director of Doctors Without Borders in Yemen, Iraq and Jordan told AFP that millions of Yemenis do not have access to clean water while others do not even have access to soap.

She explained that health organizations including WHO recommend frequent hand washing as a preventive measure to protect against the coronavirus. “However; what if they do not have clean water?” she asked.

The United Nations child agency, UNICEF, estimates that 18 million people, including 9.2 million children in Yemen, do not have direct access to “safe water, sanitation and hygiene.”

UNICEF Yemen’s chief of communications, Bismarck Swangin, told AFP that years of underinvestment in water and sanitation systems and the ongoing conflict have severely impacted people’s access to drinking water.

According to Swangin only one third of Yemen’s 27 million people are connected to water pipeline networks.

The World Health Organization in Yemen told AFP: “We cannot overwhelm the already fragile health system in Yemen,” adding that the “introduction of the disease in Yemen will overrun hospitals and health facilities.”

In 2017, Yemen suffered the largest cholera outbreak in the world which killed more than 2,000 people.

The war, which has entered its sixth year in Yemen, has led to the collapse of the health sector, and displaced more than 3.3 million people from their homes into refugee camps where access to clean water and sanitation is scarce.

However, despite the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the Yemeni island of Socotra, flights by the UAE’s Emirates airline to the island are continuing.

It has been reported on the Houthi-aligned news site Uprising Today that Emirates flights have been carrying passengers from countries with known cases of the virus, including the UAE, to Socotra, ignoring the local authorities’ decision to suspend all flights.

Activists have called on the internationally recognized government and local leadership to crack down on these flights. According to an official tweet, Emirates will suspend “most passenger flights” from tomorrow.

There have also been reports that UAE forces have cut off the electricity from Socotra’s capital Hadebo in an attempt to subdue its residents. Local people have accused the UAE of being an occupation force.

Elsewhere in Yemen, Ahmed Balhaf, the external communications official at the Mahrah protest sit-in committee, revealed on Saturday that soldiers from Saudi forces in the eastern province had been infected with the Covid-19 virus. Last week, he accused the Saudi forces of closing Mahrah’s Nishtun port on the pretext of combatting Al-Qaeda elements over “the continued occupation of the port”.

According to an article last month on Al-Masirah, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the lead partners in the Arab coalition, are seeking to annex and control Socotra and Mahrah province. Socotra is strategically located in the Indian Ocean and Mahrah can enable the Saudi government with pipeline access to the Arabian Sea in order to circumvent the Strait of Hormuz.