Since 2014, a brutal civil war has been taking place in Yemen between the Shia rebels Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition. Due to the armed conflict and the associated economic slump, 2/3 of the Yemeni population now rely on food aid for subsistence. The hunger crisis in Yemen has been further exacerbated in the past few months, as countries all over the world cut their spending on humanitarian aid due to Covid-19. Saudi Arabia which gave about $750Million to the United Nations last year for Yemen has now given only $300Million and there has been nothing that came in from the UAE, Kuwait and some other big donors in 2020.

Photo: Reuters, July 1, 2020

In addition to the alarming shortfall in foreign aid in 2020, there have also been major supply chain disruptions in the country. The Saudi-led coalition has begun to deny oil tankers dock at Northern ports, particularly at Houthi-run port Hodeidah. As a result, only a half of normal volume of commercial fuel has entered Houthi-controlled ports since June, causing significant fuel shortages in the region. Not only has this meant lack of petrol at gas stations, but the fuel crisis is also threatening access to food, hospital operations and water supplies which are all fuel dependent.


Photo: World Food Programme, October 1, 2020

As a retaliatory action against this Saudi-led oil ‘blockage’, Houthis suspended all humanitarian flights to and from the international airport in Yemen’s largest city Sana’a for nearly a month starting on September 9, 2020. This has had major consequences for healthcare in Yemen, causing temporary shortfall of vaccines, lack of Covid-19 response equipment and insufficient number of humanitarian personnel, including healthcare specialists

In fact, despite Covid-19 rapidly spreading in Yemen and the urgent need for prepared healthcare system, only half of healthcare facilities have remained open since the beginning of the pandemic. Also, there has been a major shortage of most basic health equipment including facemasks and gloves, but also ventilators and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus. And most of the local healthcare workers have not been receiving any form of financial compensation for their work in the past few months.

Equally worrying is also the recent re-emergence of Polio in remote regions of northwestern Yemen. These are the first reported cases of the deadly disease in Yemen since 2005, when UNICEF claimed Polio as an eradicated disease in the region, thanks to extensive vaccination programs. But now, with limited accessibility of Houthi-controlled North, unstable vaccine supplies and overwhelmed healthcare system due to Covid-19, organizing a new series of vaccination programs will be a challenge. 

We discussed the supply chain of pharmaceuticals in Yemen with Ms. Sue Hodgson, the Head of Emergency Supply Chain at Save the Children. According to Ms. Hodgson, pharmaceuticals and other items which require extra safety and control measures are generally imported into the country, rather than produced locally. These goods are transported into Yemen through the Aden port and supplies for the north and for the south must be shipped to Aden in separate consignments. Ms. Hodgson pointed out that transporting goods into the north region is particularly difficult because Save the Children needs clearance from the different factions that operate in the region. If any of these entities block the NGO from travelling, then the supply chain is stopped. As Ms. Hodgson concluded, the current political situation in Yemen – especially in the rebel-dominated north – presents numerous challenges for supply chain logistics and there is no simple solution in sight.  

 

1. The Economist, 2020. Food Chain Broken: Famine in Yemen. [podcast] Intelligence. Available at: <https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/food-chain-broken-famine-in yemen/id151230264?i=1000494564436> [Accessed 19 October 2020].
2. The Economist, 2020. An Avoidable Tragedy: Famine in Yemen need not happen [article]. Available at: < https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/10/03/famine-in-yemen-need-not-happen> [Accessed 19 October 2020].
3. The Economist, 2020. An Avoidable Tragedy: Famine in Yemen need not happen [article]. Available at: < https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/10/03/famine-in-yemen-need-not-happen> [Accessed 19 October 2020].
4. Relief Web, 2020. Yemen Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Snapshot [article]. Available at:
< https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Yemen_COVID_Weekly_Snapshot_26_Sep_V4.pdf> [Accessed 26 October 2020].
5. UNICEF, 2020. Yemen crisis: What you need to know [article]. Available at:
<https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis> [Accessed 26 October 2020]
6. Geneva Solutions, 2020. Polio’s last stand [article]. Available at: < https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/polio-s-last-stand> [Accessed 26 October 2020]