Close your eyes and imagine this with me.
You’re in the middle of a rather run-down street surrounded by desert. It’s crowded. Those around you
are weary, showing signs of malnourishment and starvation. Children with visible ribs and protruding
abdomens shuffle past you. Masks, like breathing, have become a luxury. You soon reach a hospital.
It’s small with just two beds and minimal facilities. You see people exhibiting clear signs of respiratory
distress but being turned away without treatment due to the lack of vital medical facilities. Their pleas
ring in your ears – your heart aches.
This isn’t your imagination, this is Yemen where the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
Yemen has been in the midst of civil war since 2015. The Houthis backed by Iran are fighting against
the Hadi Republic, led by a coalition of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the USA. This war has
set in place a domino effect of unnecessary man-made negative consequences. COVID-19 has just
exacerbated the situation.
On the 11th of March the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Eating lunch
with my housemate, the notification came in and our world started spinning. Being international
students, we did not know what would become of the international borders and whether we would be
able to get flights back home to our families. Thankfully, within ten days, we got ourselves and our
housing settled and were on the flight back home. This is my experience of COVID-19. Everything
else from there, was under the guidance and protection of my parents and my home government – the
There is a stark contrast between my experience as a 21-year-old versus the experience of a nursing
and medical student my own age in Yemen during this pandemic. They are sent to perform health
screenings on those passing through the Yemeni borders ;valiantly fighting on the frontline. It makes
me feel ashamed that I live in such comfort.
The civil war in Yemen has crippled the country since 2015. The economy crashed. Prices inflated.
People starved. Children were drinking sugar mixed with water as a substitute for food. UNICEF
reported one child dying every ten minutes. This worsened due to Covid-19 where there are no
payrolls, and many Yemenis do not have a stable income. Meanwhile globally, people are staying at
home, with a roof over their heads and have access to sufficient food, clean water and healthcare.
The Yemenis are suffering, either going out and working to earn an income to feed themselves and
their families, or else going days without eating. Yes, they’re at a higher risk for contracting of
Covid-19, but what’s the alternative? They need to survive.
Examining the contrast between the way COVID-19 has been managed in this part of the world and in
the West is like looking at the opposite sides of a coin. Wealthier governments around the world have
been giving pay-outs to their citizens to keep them at home, and pumping funds into the healthcare
system to meet the needs of their citizens. However, in Yemen, there is no unified governing body to
do this for their citizens due to the ongoing conflict. Instead, people are fighting for their lives. NGOs
are hard at work, trying their best to aid the Yemenis, but the situation is bleak. They need more help.
Many of us have spent this quarantine at home with our loving families, with roofs over our heads,
food on the table and occasionally having shopping delivered right to our doorstep, so as to reduce
the need to step out. We lamented about being confined at home, yet found escape on the internet:
TikTok and Netflix Party, became new means of human connection and community that were
previously untapped to the same extent. But here is the million-dollar question: how many of us have
contemplated how developing countries are responding to this pandemic? It seems for many if it is out
of sight, it is out of mind. Once the news cycle rolls over it, it is no longer palatable for the pity of the
Western world. I must reiterate that just reading about the Yemen crisis will not suffice in solving it.
To fulfil the humanitarian in each and every one of us, reflecting and then acting upon what is
happening will be paramount.