Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen

In a country already ravaged by conflict, COVID-19 is exacerbating the Yemen crisis, deepening the devastating social and economic impact that will leave lasting scars on Yemen. The country’s healthcare system has been strained following five years of conflict, with only 51% of its centres fully functional, six testing centers open, and limited supplies of medicine, equipment, clean water, sanitation, and personal protection equipment available – putting Yemenis at particular risk of the highly contagious disease.

Already the neediest place on Earth, Yemen was struggling to cope with outbreaks of cholera, malaria, and dengue fever before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in April. Weakened immune systems exacerbate recovery and survival rates. To date, the government has reported over 1,800 confirmed cases and over 500 deaths, though the numbers are “almost certainly much higher” given the limited number of testing kits. There is an urgent and compelling opportunity to support the country to respond to and mitigate devastation.

Since the conflict broke out in March 2015, over 3.6 million people have been displaced; one-third of whom live in overcrowded camps and informal settlements that struggle with proper sanitation. Approximately 7.4 million Yemenis need treatment or preventative services for malnutrition, including 2 million children. As Yemen relies on imports for 80% – 90% of its citizens’ basic needs, it is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions to the world economy and restrictions on the movement of goods. 

It is vital that the humanitarian and development aid that has been provided to millions of Yemenis not come to a halt during the pandemic.    

Despite the devastation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been successful in using its ongoing programmes and projects, particularly the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP), to help people prepare for the pandemic and survive the ensuing crisis.

Supporting Yemen’s Resilience and Recovery Efforts

Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from COVID-19 in a country at war calls for a coordinated public health effort at local, national, and international levels to ensure swift, effective, and targeted actions. Guided by the latest evidence and focused on upholding human rights, UNDP has helped the world’s most vulnerable groups during past disease outbreaks and pandemics.

UNDP’s ongoing partnership with the World Bank through the USD $400 million YECRP – locally implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) – has been contributing to the revival of the Yemen economy and alleviating famine and food shortages since 2016. This has been possible through large-scale cash-for-work and wage employment projects, support to small businesses, and repairs to socio-economic infrastructure.

YECRP’s impact has been vast. Reaching 300 of Yemen’s 333 districts and working across all 22 governorates, nearly 400,000 Yemenis have been provided with work opportunities and cash to purchase food and provide a decent living for their families. An additional 5 million people have gained access to critical services such as water, food, health, education, and roads.

To enable a faster response to COVID-19, YECRP is strengthening social protection by extending the coverage of existing programmes including food aid, direct cash transfers, cash-for-work, and public work schemes. YECRP’s COVID-19 response is being implemented by SFD and PWP, in partnership with UNDP and in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Supply Capacity

YECRP targets COVID-affected small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) with emergency financing, in-kind grants, grassroots awareness, hygiene kits, and is also facilitating mobile banking services. Specifically, Yemen’s Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS) has adapted its project scheme to provide immediate cash transfers to 8,645 farmers, fishers, and livestock breeders to cover the cost of seeds, fertilizers, and to sanitize equipment. Nearly 1000 participants have received cash transfers to guard against the impact of COVID-19, as well as technical assistance to maintain and improve their productivity in the face of this pandemic.

To support local food production for over 50,000 households, new sub-projects focus upon land rehabilitation, home gardens, and household-based water cisterns. Unskilled workers are recruited from the community and skilled workers are being brought in as needed from nearby villages and/or districts that are free of the virus. In addition, beneficiaries receive technical advice and education on COVID-19 through field consultants.

Cash Assistance

The fastest way to assist in an outbreak and corresponding lockdown is through massive multi-purpose, unconditional cash assistance. That is why YECRP plans to increase cash assistance to over 100,000 households that have children under age 5; pregnant or lactating mothers; an elderly family member; and/or a person with a disability.

In Hodeidah alone, over 47,300 vulnerable pregnant and lactating women with malnourished children received cash and monetary support (YER 60,000 or approximately USD 120) for three months. The remaining 53,000 in seven additional governorates (Abyan, AlMahweet, Amran, Hadhramout, Hajjah, Lahj, and Shabwa) women are being enrolled to receive their cash assistance by September 2020.

Information Management

Poor media outlets and a general lack of trust make it difficult to deliver behaviour-change messaging. Accordingly, SFD’s longstanding Tamkeen (Empowerment) Programme supported by YECRP has utilized its nationwide local and community networks to coordinate closely with local health authorities to prepare Yemenis against COVID-19.

To educate the public and participate in food distribution and assistance for households under quarantine, 4,000 youth were trained and employed. Chosen from SFD’s RUAWFD youth programme, they arranged door-to-door sessions through 2,500 community educators and nearly 6,000 youth members, who reached almost 54,000 direct beneficiaries. Close to 10,000 posters were also placed in common areas and cash-for-work sites to raise awareness of COVID-19 and preventive practices were encouraged through distributing kits containing masks, soap, chlorine, and sanitizers.

Consistent with WHO and national emergency committee guidelines, the educators practiced physical distancing and avoided assembling residents en masse.

Supporting Livelihoods and Service Delivery

YECRP will continue building resilience and help citizens sustain their livelihoods through cash transfers and cash-for-work modalities. Priority is given to vulnerable households and SMEs that are directly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aligned with the broader goal of maintaining stability during the pandemic and rebuilding in anticipation of life post-war, YECRP has provided 10,400 cash-for-work workers with masks and hand sanitizer and COVID-19 prevention awareness. Their projects focused on constructing rainwater harvesting cisterns, repairing roads, protecting agricultural lands, and were diversified to include tree planting, sidewalk painting, and cleaning. Additionally, PWP is constructing 50 latrines in highly dense urban centers, outfitted with hand-washing stations.

YECRP has played a crucial role in helping vulnerable Yemenis cope with the impacts of war and is playing a vital role in assisting Yemen to respond to the pandemic while preparing to recover from its economic and social devastation.

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Funded and supported by the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) in partnership with UNDP. The USD $400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.

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