COVID-19 SPECIAL: Somalia, Yemen, Syria

Disinfection practices at a camp for displaced people in Kafr Jalis village, Syria Disinfection practices at a camp for displaced people in Kafr Jalis village, Syria © Getty Images

In Focus by Silvia Luminati; Editor: Sara Gorelli

1. Somalia

While COVID-19 is severely affecting many countries in the world, the United Nations Secretary General (UN) calls for  all the countries to reinforce the efforts to contain the pandemic. James Swan, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, calls everyone to focus against the spread of COVID-19 paying attention “to the most vulnerable”, including internally displaced people. According to the United Nations, 2.6 million people are currently displaced within Somalia in overcrowded camps with limited possibilities of practising social distancing. Hence, Mr. Swan also appeals to Al-Shabab militants, who control much of the central and southern Somalia, “for a cessation of acts of violence and terrorism”. Health facilities have been seriously damaged by 30-year-long conflict. Although few cases of Coronavirus have been confirmed so far, government authorities are worried that if COVID-19 spreads, it will be difficult to protect Somali people and ensure the needs of the most vulnerable.


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2. Yemen

After five years of war, the public health system in Yemen is collapsing. As of 2 April 2020, there are no COVID-19 confirmed cases. Moreover, the country is still facing the impacts of famine and outbreaks of cholera and now COVID-19 risks to further restrict the movements of humanitarian agencies which deliver lifesaving aid across the country. For these reasons, the spread of the epidemic in Yemen could have a massive effect. The Special Envoy for Yemen, echoing the Secretary-General’s call, urges the parties in conflict to de-escalate violence and make progresses on humanitarian measures for the thousands of families internally displaced. As COVID-19 cases are increasing across the region, the UN Development Program in Yemen is working with national authorities to get prepared for possible outbreak.


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3. Syria

COVID-19 has yet set foot in Syria. As of 31 March 2020, the authorities have confirmed 10 coronavirus cases. Geir Pedersen, the UN envoy, expresses concern as “Syria is at high risk of being unable to contain the pandemic”. The large scale population movements due to the conflict can seriously put at risk the health of Syrians. After the call for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, the UN is concerned that the virus could spread rapidly throughout multiple IDP camps, informal settlements and places of detention, thus overwhelming the healthcare system. Since the World Health Organization has estimated that only 64% of public hospitals are fully functioning, Mr. Pedersen has invited everyone to “work urgently for a common effort”.


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