Hand-washing: a luxury millions of Yemenis can't afford

AFP Al Hajjah, Yemen Mar 24, 2020, 02.24 PM(IST)

A security guard wearing a protective mask sprays sanitiser onto the hands of incoming customers as a measure against COVID-19, outside a coffee shop in Yemen's capital Sanaa Photograph:( AFP )

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Nearly 18 million people, including 9.2 million children, do not have regular access to safe water, according to UNICEF.

Hand-washing to combat the spread of coronavirus is the order of the day, but it's an unaffordable luxury for millions in war-ravaged Yemen where clean water is dangerously scarce.

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Yemen's broken healthcare system has yet to register any cases of the disease, but if the pandemic does hit, the impact will be unimaginable in a country where the long conflict has created what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Five years after a Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen to support the government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, some 80 percent of the population of 30 million is in need of aid. 

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it was concerned many Yemenis have no access even to clean water or soap.

"We are extremely worried," Caroline Seguin, MSF's head of programmes in Yemen, Iraq and Jordan, told AFP. "We can recommend they wash their hands, but what if they don't have anything to wash with?"

Nearly 18 million people, including 9.2 million children, do not have regular access to safe water, according to UNICEF, and only a third of the population has access to piped supplies.

Yemen suffered one of its worst ever outbreaks of cholera in 2017 and Oxfam said Tuesday that the forthcoming rainy season could see another deadly episode that would be compounded by the new virus threat.