The new coronavirus is believed to be spreading throughout Yemen, where the healthcare system "has in effect collapsed", the United Nations has warned as it appealed for urgent funding. "Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a Geneva briefing on Friday. "We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming; they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed," he said. Aid workers report having to turn people away because they do not have enough medical oxygen or sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, Laerke said.
The United States has called on the United Nations to act against Iran after Saudi Arabia, a Washington ally, accused Tehran of "direct military aggression" through the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Amid an escalating war of words, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday pointed the figure to Iran for supplying a ballistic missile that was fired on Saturday from Houthi-held territory towards Riyadh's international airport. Saudi-led forces, which have been fighting the Houthis since March 2015, intercepted and destroyed the weapon before it reached its target. Iran, which supports the Shia Houthi rebels but denies arming them, has dismissed the Saudi allegation as "contrary to reality". Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, on Tuesday accused Iran of supplying a missile to the Houthis that was fired into Saudi Arabia in July, and also referred to Riyadh's allegation that the weapon that was shot down over Riyadh on Saturday "may also be of Iranian origin".
The World Health Organization (WHO) has ordered its staff out of Houthi rebel-held areas in war-torn Yemen, a move sources said aimed to pressure the group to be more transparent about suspected coronavirus cases. A WHO directive issued late on Saturday notified staff in Sanaa, the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the northern province of Saada, and the central province of Ibb that "all movements, meetings or any other activity" for staff in those areas were paused until further notice. The WHO order was issued because of "credible threats and perceived risks which could have an impact on staff security", the agency said, adding operations were not suspended. The United Nations is operating under the assumption there is now full-blown transmission in Yemen, the WHO said. "We are competing for resources and supplies in the global market - and a country's'priority status' in terms of who receives what for COVID-19 is directly linked to how many cases are in country and the need - it is the numbers," it said.
At a recent United Nations conference to support Yemen, Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition supported by the internationally recognized Yemeni government, led the way with a donation of $430 million out of a total of $1.67 billion raised. Iran, which backs the Houthi militias fighting the Yemeni government, according to a public UN listing of the donations, didn't offer any aid. While the Biden administration gave $191 million at the conference, adding to the hundreds of millions already donated in U.S. humanitarian aid to the war-torn country, a recent policy change and intense diplomacy to get a ceasefire has so far failed. Attacks against the Saudi-led coalition by the Houthis have only intensified in scale and ferocity. The war began in 2014 when the Houthis laid siege to Yemen's capital in an attempt to take over the country.
As the pandemic bore down, Saudi Arabia, which has poured tens of billions of dollars into the war to little tangible end, announced a unilateral cease-fire in Yemen in early April. But that has not prevented conflict from erupting in the weeks since, as the Houthis continue to mount attacks, a separatist group battles the internationally recognized government for control in the south, and bombs from the Saudi-led coalition keep falling. Aid groups urged all sides on Tuesday to negotiate an end to the war -- the only real hope of resolving Yemen's many humanitarian crises. And critics of Saudi Arabia said the fortune it had spent on aid for Yemen, including the $500 million it pledged on Tuesday, meant little if it continued to bomb civilians and blockade supplies from reaching Houthi territory. "Millions of Yemeni people are staring down the double barrel of starvation and a global pandemic," said Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Relief Council, an aid group that works in Yemen, urging donors to reach back into their pockets.