Q&A with CARE Yemen Country Director Aaron Brent
As of today, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yemen. Five years of war has made the country one of the most isolated places in the world. Sana’a International Airport has been closed for nearly four years – with only humanitarian flights allowed in. Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, even movement within the country has been restricted.
We spoke about the impact of the lockdown with CARE Yemen Country Director Aaron Brent, who told us that while the measures are appropriate, they add extra hardship to what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
What will these COVID-19 travel restrictions mean for CARE programming and individual families’ lives?
It will have a massive effect, especially on lifesaving humanitarian aid. Any type of movement restriction that affects the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver lifesaving aid is going to be catastrophic.
One of our biggest programs is monthly food distribution to the most vulnerable and hungry people. These are people who are on the edge of famine and depend on food distributions to stay alive.
They have gone through five years of total isolation, had to undergo the impacts of multiple outbreaks of cholera – and are still in the midst of one right now. We’ve also experienced dengue fever and a diphtheria epidemic in the past years, so COVID-19 is coming on top of all these.
What are you most worried about?
My biggest fear is not being able to get our team members out to deliver essential humanitarian aid, and for us to not be able to reach those most vulnerable communities. The Yemeni healthcare system is in ruins. This is what happens after five years of war. We do everything we can to support the healthcare system, but the reality is when you see healthcare systems in very advanced countries like Italy or the US being completely overwhelmed, then the impacts here in Yemen are unimaginable. That is a really big worry.
Are there any lessons learned from Yemen’s numerous disease outbreaks that would be applicable to COVID-19?
The current public health messages around the COVID-19 pandemic, telling people to wash their hands and keep surfaces clean, are exactly the same principles applied for any infectious disease outbreak, so these are the same type of measures that CARE has been working on for years in Yemen.
In all our programs here, we are integrating COVID-19 prevention activities – so the best and most effective thing we can do right now is get that message out there.
What is your message to the international community in light of the anniversary of the Yemen conflict and these latest COVID-19 developments?
We know how much the COVID-19 virus has affected people’s lives all around the world and forced people into difficult economic situations, and into isolation. I would just ask people, while they’re going through this, to think of the Yemeni people who have been in this exact same position, but for the last five years. Not for 14 days, not one month, but five years.
My plea is that, no matter how bad it gets in your country, please do not forget Yemen.