The United States has cut off millions of dollars for healthcare programs and other aid in Yemen amid fears of the spread of the new coronavirus in the impoverished Arab nation.
US President Donald Trump’s administration announced the decision on Friday, saying the move was a “necessary response to longstanding interference” by fighters from Yemen’s Houthi movement.
Houthi fighters have been defending Yemen against a Saudi aggression and have managed to gain ground against foreign-backed militants.
The devastating military campaign which began in March 2015, coupled with a Saudi naval blockade, have killed hundreds of thousands of people and plunged Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The Saudi-led military campaign has also paved the way for the outbreak of epidemics, most notably cholera, in the impoverished country.
Many humanitarian groups and some members of US Congress had asked Washington not to cut off aid to Yemen at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is spreading across the Middle East.
The situation is already dire in Yemen where the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) have failed to open a humanitarian medical air bridge for civilians suffering from conditions that cannot be treated inside the country.
An outbreak of the coronavirus is set to put an even bigger strain on the already hampered health services and the work of aid workers.
Humanitarian officials say the US decision will create major funding gaps for dozens of programs run by the United Nations and private aid groups, including efforts to supply the Yemenis with hand soap and medicine and to staff clinics with healthcare workers.
They fear that the Yemeni population, weakened by hunger and packed into refugee camps, would be further decimated by the coronavirus.
While Yemen has not recorded any COVID-19 cases to date, the possibility of an outbreak threatens the war-ravaged country’s already fragile healthcare system.
Since the start of Saudi war on Yemen, more than 3.6 million people have been driven from their homes. An estimated 80 percent of the population – 24 million – requires some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that sanctions are heightening the health risks for millions of people and weakening the global efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.
On Thursday, however, the United States intensified its sanctions against Iran despite growing calls to ease pressure on the country which is battling the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
The US also imposed further sanctions on Venezuela after accusing President Nicolas Maduro and more than a dozen other senior officials of “narco-terrorism”.