A BARRAGE of missiles fired by the Yemeni Houthi rebel outfit at Saudi cities over the weekend comes as a stark reminder that the situation in the Arab world’s poorest nation remains precarious even as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic. The Houthi projectiles targeted the Saudi capital Riyadh as well as the town of Jizan closer to the Yemeni border. No casualties were reported though a number of civilians were apparently injured in Riyadh. The strikes came on the fifth anniversary of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen; Riyadh had taken military action in support of Yemen’s government against the Iran-backed Houthis. However, the intervention has resulted in the devastation of Saudi Arabia’s impoverished southern neighbour, with the Houthis far from defeated. There were reports that jets from the Saudi coalition had bombed the Yemeni capital Sana’a — currently in Houthi control — on Monday in apparent retaliation for the strikes on Saudi cities.
Considering the fact that the whole world, from highly developed states to those with more fragile infrastructure, is battling to keep the Covid-19 pandemic at bay, all parties involved in Yemen must cease fire and devote their efforts to confront the pandemic. In fact, this could be an opportune moment to declare a cessation to hostilities in all trouble spots of the world, including Yemen, as the UN secretary general has also said. The fact is that five years of war have devastated Yemen, and one shudders to think what would happen if a Covid-19 outbreak was reported in the country. As of now, WHO says there are no reported cases in Yemen, but in a state of war it is unclear how much testing is being done. Apart from the man-made disasters that have resulted from the war — death, injuries, malnutrition — Yemen current suffers from the world’s largest cholera epidemic; WHO says 1.3m suspected cases have been recorded. In such a miserable situation, should Covid-19 spread rapidly in the country, the results would be catastrophic. All forces must cease hostilities in Yemen, and the process to bring about a negotiated settlement to the imbroglio must be speeded up. It is essential that Yemen’s future is decided by its people, and that all sects and tribes are represented and respected in matters of governance. To prevent the escalation of Yemen’s humanitarian nightmare, an end to the ruinous war should be brought about swiftly.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2020