When many parts of the world began to shut down public life to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020, observers hoped that Yemen could avoid the pandemic’s impact because of the near-shut down of international travel. Unfortunately, the virus did not spare Yemen, and added more hardship to a country already facing devastating economic, health, and political crises. The Yemen Supreme National Emergency for COVID-19 has, by the end of March 2021, estimated the infection rate as 44,357 with 888 deaths. In June 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the coronavirus known fatality rate in Yemen at 25 percent, four times higher than the global average.
Despite the internationally recognized government’s attempts to be transparent about the spread of the coronavirus, it spread virtually undetected as authorities lacked testing capacities and the necessary resources to control the virus. As a result, authorities throughout the country downplayed the virus. The arrival of the coronavirus presented a great challenge to state institutions in Yemen, but it also presented an opportunity to improve cooperation between institutions, improve public relations, and to generate popular trust in local councils and security institutions. Health interventions carry the potential to improve prospects for local peace by, for instance, improving trust and communication between citizens and the state, making health care more equitable, building collaboration between various sides in a conflict, and improving social cohesion.
“An Opportunity in Crisis? Covid-19 and State-community Relations in Taiz” by Raiman al-Hamdani and Mareike Transfeld
The city of Taiz presents a good case study. Even with the governorate split, with the north under the control of Ansarallah (Houthis) and the south and the governorate’s capital, Taiz city, under the IRG’s jurisdiction, the city has a vibrant civil society, and state security institutions have in recent times shown an interest in responding to community needs to improve security. The pandemic response between March and June 2020 shows that institutions had a genuine interest in protecting the community by implementing measures to prevent the coronavirus’s spread. However, security institutions did not take up a more active public security role in terms of the coronavirus campaign because of ongoing obstacles from the past: a lack of resources, a historical lack of trust in these security institutions, and diverging interests among state actors, leading to insufficient coordination. In addition, the pandemic came with a unique set of social and economic challenges: due to large parts of the community’s dependence on daily wage jobs and overcrowding, implementation of coronavirus prevention measures was always going to be difficult. The increased workload on already strained institutions made the fight against the virus an uphill battle. The gap between state provision and public needs was evident as state-enforced measures were rarely tailored to local living conditions, and institutions were unable to efficiently communicate with the public, demonstrating the indispensable role of civil society organizations CSOs as a link between state institutions and the community.
This research was funded by the Federal German Foreign Office and supported by the Political Settlement Research Programme through the ‘Covid Collective Research Platform’ at IDS Sussex, with funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK Aid.