As deadly coronavirus threatens war-torn Yemen, peace is needed more than ever

Today marks the five-year anniversary of the escalation of violence in Yemen. With COVID-19 rapidly spreading across the globe, how long before it reaches Yemen?

“At night before I sleep, I think of my best friend.

“I wish I could just close my eyes and not remember but I can’t. I just sit and cry myself to sleep… I wake up in the morning in the same state.

“The last voice I heard before the explosion was my best friend’s. She was laughing with us. She died in the explosion.”

Hala, a 13-year-old girl, Yemen

As the largest independent NGO in Yemen, Save the Children has reached more than 3 million children with crucial support since the escalation of the conflict in 2015 and has seen first-hand the devastating impact of the conflict.

For at least three years now, Yemen has been referred to as the “world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe”. How long can a country be in this state before its reserves are exhausted and its resilience sapped?

Years of war and lost development have taken their toll. Last year, a hospital we support in Hodeidah was full of children with shrapnel wounds from shelling and airstrikes. Now, as the battles inside the city lull, we are seeing more and more children with complex chronic conditions that have gone untreated through five years of war and blockade.

Save the Children recently interviewed more than 1,000 children, parents and caregivers in Yemen. We found that the conflict has had devastating effects on children’s mental health. More than half of those children surveyed said they struggle with feelings of sadness and depression. Around one in five of the surveyed children they are always afraid.

This war urgently needs to come to an end. The country has already seen a surge in child mortality, driven by disease and chronic malnutrition. More than half of all health facilities are fully or partially closed.

In these already desperate conditions, it’s not hard to imagine how COVID-19 would be utterly devasting.

There’s only one way to begin to turn this tide and avoid disaster, and that is through peace.

This is where the UK’s input is critical.

Britain must step up and push the parties to the conflict to get round the table to find an immediate cessation of hostilities, a country-wide ceasefire and a long-term political solution.

The recent escalations in violence show that all sides are still attempting to win an additional advantage at the negotiating table.

This is a man-made conflict; it is simply a matter of political will that can help turn the tide and unlock the next stage of potential peace negotiations for Yemen. What’s needed now is serious and determined leadership from the Foreign Office – prioritising peace and bringing international pressure to bear on parties to the conflict.

As Britain rightly focuses on halting the spread of the virus here in the UK, we must not forget our obligations to countries like Yemen. We must give children like Hala a chance at a future.

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