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COVID-19: Yemen elite deaths will cause further fracturing

Situation Summary

On May 25, the Health Ministry reported 2 more deaths and 11 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yemen’s (Saudi-backed) government-controlled territories. The new infections were recorded in Aden (4), Taiz (4), and Lahjj (3). The number of coronavirus-related deaths now stands at 44, while the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 233.

Assessment

Yemen’s young population (20-years-old is the average age) suggests that COVID-19 will have only a marginal effect, especially in comparison to the country’s other troubles: conflict, poverty, and diseases including dengue, malaria, and cholera.

However, poor health due to malnutrition and widespread use of qat, a narcotic, calls into question any assumption of the population’s resistance to the virus.

South Yemen, particularly the city of Aden, is considered to be the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak. The lack of healthcare infrastructure and access for international NGOs means that the virus is likely to be spreading at unknown rates in other areas of the country as well.

The outcome of the Saudi-hosted virtual donors conference on June 2, 2020 will be crucial for aid organizations seeking to keep their operations running in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the key backers of Yemen’s internationally recognized government have been trying to extract themselves from the five-year-old conflict. Also managing their own COVID-19 situations, budgets for aid to Yemen will be strained.

Should an apparent lack of acceptance among Yemen’s population regarding the threat posed by the virus and a lack of aid from the international community combine to cause a spike in cases, the country’s already desperate situation will worsen.

The country may fracture further if Yemen’s various factions see high numbers of deaths among their elites.


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