UN reports ‘significant progress’ on Yemen ceasefire amid rising COVID-19 cases

UN envoy to Yemen said “significant progress” in negotiations for a national ceasefire in war-torn country Thursday, but cautioned serious challenges as the coronavirus spreads at an unknown rate across the Arab country.

Martin Griffiths urged the belligerent parties in Yemen – the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels who control the capital and most of the north – to quickly resolve their differences over the humanitarian and economic measures needed to advance peace efforts and help the country fight the virus.

Griffiths spoke to the United Nations Security Council during a video briefing, saying that measures to allow medical supplies and personnel to reach vulnerable people are “now a very, very urgent priority”.

He did not give details on the progress of the peace talks. Despite Saudi Arabia’s unilateral declaration of ceasefire last month, the conflict has intensified and a declaration of autonomy over the south by Yemen’s separatists has reopened a dangerous new front.

To date, Yemen has reported 86 cases of the virus, including 13 deaths. The internationally recognized government and WHO have criticized the rebels for their lack of transparency, as only two cases, including one death, have been registered in the territory under their control.

With the surge in the number of cases in the past 10 days in remote provinces, Ramesh Rajasingham, United Nations Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has warned that community transmission has taken off.

He said it was shocking that in the midst of a pandemic, relief funds were running out and that 31 of the 41 major United Nations programs in Yemen will begin to close in the coming weeks if more funding is not provided. not obtained, including COVID-19 intervention teams and feeding centers for children suffering from severe malnutrition.

“This means that far more people are at risk of dying,” he said, calling for an additional $ 2 billion to cover essential activities from June to December.

Saudi Arabia and the United Nations to host virtual pledging conference on June 2, and Rajasingham urged Saudis and the United States to turn pledges into cash and other donors to pledge and pay quickly.

Rajasingham said Yemeni civilian casualties increased again in April, with 177 civilians killed or injured. Griffiths said he remained extremely concerned about the Battle of Marib, the intense fighting in the governorates of Bayda and Dhale and the ceasefire violations in Hodeida, where the country’s main port is located.

Violent clashes erupted this week in the southern province of Abyan between government troops backed by Saudi Arabia and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. The fighting between the two sides – nominally allies of the Saudi-led coalition – added a new layer to the complex civil war.

The Security Council subsequently reiterated its support for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a ceasefire in Yemen and expressed concern over the fighting between the government and the Houthis and the slow pace of negotiations in view of a cease-fire.

Members also called on government and southern separatists “to ease military tensions” and commit to a peace deal negotiated by the Saudis – and the separatists “to reverse any action that jeopardizes legitimacy, sovereignty , unity or territorial integrity of Yemen “.

Griffiths said that people, particularly in the southern port city of Aden, “are facing epidemics of COVID-19 and other diseases believed to include malaria, cholera, dengue fever and others.”

“Deaths are increasing every day, but no one knows exactly why because the health system is so ill-equipped to diagnose and treat people,” he said.

The local government in Aden reported 70 deaths Wednesday and 76 the day before – five times more per day since the first week in May. The causes of death were not specified.

Save the Children suggested in a statement Thursday that some of the deaths due to the unusual outbreak of death may be due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He said that many hospitals and clinics in Aden have closed and that, in those that are still open, some staff refuse to work due to severe shortages of protective equipment.

The group’s director in Yemen, Mohammed Alshamaa, said aid workers have seen many desperate patients “breathe heavily or even collapse” and be denied access to hospitals.

Aden and the surrounding area have recently been hit by torrential rain, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying dengue and chikungunya, which can cause fever and respiratory symptoms similar to COVID-19.

“Aden is an example of the horrors that are hitting Yemen,” said Griffiths, also highlighting the city’s damaged infrastructure, severe power outages and long-deteriorating public services “now at a breaking point”.

Rajasingham, the humanitarian official, highlighted an April 6 attack by gunmen who threw grenades at the guards of an isolation center in a Dhale hospital, adding that “fear of stigma can also lead to less people to see a doctor when they need it. . “

As for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, he said, “stigma is already a serious concern”.