COVID-19 amplifies underlying vulnerabilities in Yemen
Health partners remain concerned that there has been significant under-reporting of COVID 19 in Yemen – at the end of December 2,101 cases and 611 deaths had been reported – and that the official epi-curve underestimates COVID-19 infections. Though the extent of COVID-19 in Yemen remains unknown, research has highlighted the potential socio-economic impact of the virus, which has added to the country’s existing multiple challenges, including conflict, economic collapse, hunger, disease, and displacement. The FAO-WFP early warning analysis of acute food insecurity hotspots of October 2020, for example, highlighted how COVID-19 restrictions had compounded the major drivers of food insecurity in Yemen – the ongoing economic crisis and the prolonged conflict –mainly because of the impact on work opportunities, incomes and remittances.
A recent study by the Cash Consortium in Yemen (CCY) draws similar conclusions, indicating that COVID-19 has amplified underlying vulnerabilities in Yemen. The research, undertaken in August when COVID-19 restrictions had been eased across the country, involved surveys with 571 households in 9 governorates (Aden, Al Dhale’e, Al Hudaydah, Amran, Hajjah, Lahj, Marib, Sana’a City, and Taizz) spanning areas controlled by the de facto authorities (DFA) in the north of the country and areas controlled by the internationally recognized government (IRG) in the south.
The study shows that the living conditions and economic status of the households surveyed had deteriorated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the worsening situation cannot be attributed solely to COVID-19, it is likely to be a significant contributing factor with respondents reporting changes across a range of variables. The study indicates that the pandemic has had an adverse impact on households’ living situation, employment, income, and remittances from abroad – the largest source of foreign currency in Yemen. Nearly half of respondents stated that their family breadwinner had lost their job, and almost half of them assessed their income loss as high or medium. The average monthly income reported by respondents even before the pandemic (YER68,545 – about $114 – between December 2019 and March 2020) was already lower than the monthly Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB - YER101,000 in northern governorates and YER117,000 and in southern governorates), yet around a third of respondents reported a decrease in income since the start of the pandemic, at the same level as the decrease in remittances from abroad. A quarter of the families surveyed indicated that they had moved since the start of the pandemic or consider themselves at risk of eviction. Of the restrictions imposed by the authorities in response to COVID-19, respondents identified the curfew, being unable to send children to school, and movement restrictions as those that had affected them the most.
Economically vulnerable households have limited coping mechanisms to deal with the effects of the pandemic. According to the study, the majority reported having no savings and those who did thought they would not last for more than a month. Households were resorting to negative coping strategies, including taking on significantly more debt – often reported as an increase in debt of 50 per cent – and almost 75 per cent of households reported having no savings and being in debt, making them extremely vulnerable. While displaced households were mostly worse off across different indicators, experiences as a result of the impact of COVID-19 and ability to cope did not differ dramatically.
The study highlights that basic needs that are key to containing the spread of COVID-19 frequently go unmet. Households identified food, cash, medical assistance, and water as priority needs and most households lacked sufficient hygiene items, including soap and disinfectant. While respondents seemed to have continued access to markets and indicated that most goods are still available, prices were perceived as significantly higher than before. The survey also indicated a demand for a more comprehensive information package with practical information about COVID-19.
Based on the study, CCY concludes that humanitarian actors and donors need to continue monitoring, supporting, and coordinating immediate cash transfers, which should ideally be integrated with other longer-term types of assistance to help communities cope with the harmful effects of COVID-19.