Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’

Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’

The virus has upended plans for a flurry of climate diplomacy this year. Kelly MacNamara reported the UN chief as saying: Cooperate on climate or ‘we will be doomed’.

World powers must pull together and retool their economies for a green future or humanity is “doomed”, UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned, telling AFP that failure to control the coronavirus pandemic illustrates the danger of disunity.

Before the virus struck, 2020 was billed as a pivotal year for the plan to dodge the bullet of catastrophic global warming, with high profile summits planned to catch a wave of public alarm over the future of the planet.

The coronavirus crisis may have shunted climate into the sidelines as nations launched unprecedented shutdowns to try to slow its spread, but Guterres said the need for climate action was more urgent than ever.

In a searing assessment of the international response, Guterres said the pandemic should sharpen governments’ focus on cutting emissions, urging them to use the crisis as a springboard to launch “transformational” policies aimed at weaning societies off fossil fuels.

“I think the failure that was shown in the capacity to contain the spread of the virus—by the fact that there was not enough international coordination in the way the virus was fought—that failure must make countries understand that they need to change course,” he told AFP.

“They need to act together in relation to the climate threat that is a much bigger threat than the threat of the pandemic in itself—it’s an existential threat for our planet and for our lives.”

There are fears the pandemic's economic toll could see governments relax their climate targets
There are fears the pandemic’s economic toll could see governments relax their climate targets

The UN chief said “pollution and not people” should be taxed and called for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies, launch massive investments in renewables and commit to “carbon neutrality”—net zero emissions—by 2050.

“We need to have a number of transformational measures in relation to energy, in relation to transportation, in relation to agriculture, in relation to industry, in relation to our own way of life, without which we would be doomed,” he said.

His comments come as the landmark Paris climate deal goes into effect this year in a bid to cap the rise in temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The accord was already on a knife-edge before the pandemic, with doubts over commitments from major polluting nations and concerns that it is still far short of what science says is needed to avert disastrous climate change.

US President Donald Trump shocked the world in 2017 when he said the United States—history’s largest emitter—was withdrawing from the Paris deal. It is due to leave on November 4, just after the country’s presidential election.

Investing in green energy makes evironmental and economic sense, the UN chief said
Investing in green energy makes evironmental and economic sense, the UN chief said

The pandemic has further dented hopes that diplomatic pressure could sweep foot-dragging nations into announcing bold climate action plans, as major summits were postponed and nations focused inwards.

Guterres said there was currently no clear sign that a United States government recovery policy would align with Paris goals, but he expressed hope that states, businesses and individuals “will compensate for the lack of political commitment that exists at the present moment“.

He said much now rests on the actions of major emitters, China, the US, Europe, Russia, India and Japan, in interviews with AFP and other members of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets committed to increased climate coverage.

“We have never been as fragile as we are, we never needed as much humility, unity and solidarity as now,” he said, blasting “irrational demonstrations of xenophobia” and the rise of nationalism.

“Either we are united, or we will be doomed,” he added, ahead of a largely virtual UN General Assembly this month.

The pandemic hit as a  global youth climate movement was gaining increasing attention
The pandemic hit as a global youth climate movement was gaining increasing attention

‘Wake up’

Climate change warnings are no longer predictions of a distant future.

Earth’s average surface temperature has gone up by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, enough to increase the intensity of droughts, heat waves and tropical cyclones.

Burning fossil fuels has been by far the main driver of rising temperatures, with concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere now at their highest levels in around three million years.

The last five years were the five hottest on record, while ice sheets are melting at a rate that tracks scientists’ worst-case scenarios, prefiguring devastating sea level rises.

“The expectations that we have in relation to the next five years about storms, about drought and about other dramatic impacts in the living conditions of many people around the world are absolutely terrible,” Guterres said, ahead of a multi-agency climate report on Wednesday.

The UN's climate science advisory panel has warned that time is running out if a rise in global temperatures is to be capped at
The UN’s climate science advisory panel has warned that time is running out if a rise in global temperatures is to be capped at 1.5C

The United Nations says it is still possible to reach a safer goal of a 1.5C cap in temperature rise, but to get there global emissions must fall 7.6 percent annually this decade.

While the shutdowns implemented during the pandemic could reduce global emissions by up to eight percent in 2020, scientists have warned that without systemic change in how the world powers and feeds itself, the drop would be essentially meaningless.

Fourth hottest August ever recorded
World map showing the difference between the temperature in August 2020 and the average for that month from 1981 to 2010.

‘A different world’

There are also concerns that massive Covid-19 stimulus packages being devised by governments could provide a crutch to polluting industries.

Guterres has urged Japan, India and China to drop their continued reliance on coal.

China—the world’s biggest polluter—has invested heavily in renewable energy, but it has also reportedly stepped up coal production.

Guterres said the determination of young activists gives him hope
Guterres said the determination of young activists gives him hope

The UN head said he was hopeful the EU would make good on its green commitments, after it announced its 750-billion-euro ($885 billion) stimulus plan that aims in part to reach carbon neutrality targets.

He said the pandemic had demonstrated society’s capacity to adapt to transformation.

“I don’t want to go back to a world where biodiversity is being put into question, to a world where fossil fuels receive more subsidies than renewables, or to a world in which we see inequalities making societies with less and less cohesion and creating instability, creating anger, creating frustration,” he added.

“I think we need to have a different world, a different normal and we have an opportunity to do so.”


Explore furtherWind and solar power at record high in 2020, coal dips: analysis

Mideast most optimistic about post-COVID recovery

Mideast most optimistic about post-COVID recovery

Despite that for most, the long road to economic recovery following the Coronavirus pandemic may take a prolonged time and more effort than initially thought. Here is YouGov saying that the Mideast most optimistic about post-COVID recovery.

MANAMA, 5 August 2020

The Middle East has the world’s most positive outlook ahead of the looming recession with 27% of Saudi Arabians and Emiratis predicting their economies would boom in 12 months’ time, a report said.

Viet Nam’s population stood out as the most upbeat, with 65% of respondents believing their economy would remain stable and less than a quarter expecting a recession, according to the survey conducted by YouGov, which uncovers wide variation in people’s economic circumstances.

Viet Nam has been praised internationally for its quick action on coronavirus, though it has recently had to reimpose localized restrictions after new cases of the virus emerged in the city of Danang. Before this incident, it had not registered a community infection in more than three months.

The Financial Times has called it the worst global economic contraction since at least the 1930s. Advanced economies are set to shrink by 7% this year while emerging and developing economies collectively face a contraction of 2.5%.

YouGov asked 27,000 people in 26 economies about their expectations for the economy over the next 12 months.

While respondents were largely united in their fears over a global recession – ranging from 95% of Spaniards to 67% of Norwegians – the survey uncovered a wide spread of views on the fates of national economies.

The most pessimistic views came from economies as diverse as Mexico, Hong Kong and France, where three-quarters of those surveyed expected to be in recession in 12 months’ time. Mexico has recently become one of the countries worst affected by coronavirus.

On the other side of the globe, Hong Kong’s attitudes were markedly different from the rest of China, where half of respondents saw their economy remaining stable.

Third-ranked France was slightly separated from its European neighbours in Spain and the United Kingdom. Only around two-thirds of Spaniards and Brits said they were expecting an economic depression next year.

The hit to household incomes

Household finances had largely stayed the same for the majority of respondents compared to the month before.

The Nordic countries reported the greatest levels of financial stability, ranging from 69% in Norway to 79% in Denmark.

Mexicans had suffered the greatest financial impact, with 58% reporting that their finances had declined in the past month. Next in line were the Philippines and India, where 50% and more reported a drop. This aligned with the strong concerns over a looming economic depression that all three economies had expressed elsewhere in the study.

Viet Nam, again, showed itself as optimistic, with a third of respondents stating that their household finances had actually improved from the previous month.

Job losses and economic concerns

Furlough, reductions in working hours and job losses have shaken up national economies in the wake of Covid-19.

Mexico topped the list of the worst job losses (17%). Along with France, it also had the highest number of employees on furlough (24%).

Emiratis were worst affected by unpaid leave, with one in four respondents retaining a job but not getting paid.

Reduced working hours were the most prevalent way of dealing with the pandemic in South-East Asia, with upbeat Viet Nam (42%) ahead of the Philippines and India, with around a third each.

Finland (59%) and Germany (57%), Taiwan, China (53%) and the UK (51%) were the only economies where a majority of workers said their jobs were unaffected.

Beyond the threat of recession and jobs, respondents were most concerned about the impact of the pandemic on local businesses. Other fears such as paying rent or mortgages, banks failing and paying bills were more differentiated. Across the board, Indonesians and Filipinos emerged as the most worried, while the Nordic countries and Germany were the least concerned, according to YouGov.

That people in very diverse markets – emerging and advanced – take a positive stance underscores that the aftermath of coronavirus presents not just substantial challenges: it is also a window of opportunity to stage what has been called a “Great Reset”. How this can be achieved will be the theme of a World Economic Forum twin summit in January 2021, which will focus on building a new, more resilient economic and social system for the post-Covid world. – TradeArabia News Service

UAE’s migrant workers fret over future

UAE’s migrant workers fret over future

UAE’s migrant workers fret over future in coronavirus economy; that is according to my reading, perhaps about their own future in the Gulf region, particularly in the UAE during and above all after the passing of the pandemic. It must be reminded that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully launched its Mars mission dubbed “Al Amal”, or “Hope”, on July 20, 2020.

In the meantime, here is the original Reuters article that covers this traumatic period in the life of those numerous migrant workers in the UAE.


DUBAI (Reuters) – When Kapil left his Nepali village for an airport job packing cargo in the United Arab Emirates, he thought he was securing a future for himself and his family.

UAE's migrant workers fret over future
Unemployed men queue for food handouts from concerned local residents after they lost incomes due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lisa Barrington

But less than a year after arriving in the Middle East trade and tourism hub, he questions whether it was the right decision after learning there would be no work this month.

“I’m totally hopeless,” said 29-year-old Kapil, whose wife and five-year-old son are in Nepal.

The coronavirus crisis has taken a heavy toll on the economies of the oil-rich Gulf, heavily reliant on low-paid foreign workers.

They are the backbone of the Gulf economies, taking jobs in construction, services and transport, and are now facing the realities of the pandemic.

Reuters spoke to over 30 workers like Kapil in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, who all said they are now enduring hardship due to coronavirus.

Many have racked up debt and would go hungry without the help of charities as they wait for work and to be paid.

Some said they found little reason to stay without work and wanted to return to their home countries despite being owed months of wages; hundreds of thousands have already left.

The treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf has come under greater scrutiny, with human rights groups saying conditions have deteriorated because of the pandemic.

In the UAE, most attractive because of the economic opportunities it offers, there is no social safety net for foreigners, who make up about 90% of the population.

A laundry service worker from Cameroon told Reuters he had not been paid in months and was now selling fruit and vegetables on the street earning 30 to 40 dirhams a day ($8-$11).

The UAE government communication office did not respond to emailed questions about migrant worker welfare.

In May, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the Gulf state was committed to protecting the rights of all workers, state news agency WAM reported.

DEBTS

Those in blue collar jobs are the most vulnerable. They are paid low wages, work long hours and often live in cramped dormitories that have been coronavirus hotbeds.

Many also pay fees to recruiters in their home country, a practice common for low paying jobs in the Gulf.

Kapil, who said he paid a recruiter 175,000 Nepali rupees ($1,450) for his UAE job, is not sure when he will work again.

His employer told staff they would only be paid when they worked and it was unclear whether there would be any work next month, he said.

Kapil said he had been earning around $600 a month – six times more than his teacher salary in Nepal – working up to 12 hours a day, six days a week at the airport.

He said not working had left him stressed and unable to provide for his wife, child and elderly parents in Nepal.

Kapil, who showed his employment contract and other documents to Reuters, asked that his full name not be published and his employer not identified over fears he could face repercussions.

Arriving in the UAE last October, Kapil thought he would work at the airport for a few years before finding a better job, possibly using his teaching skills.Slideshow (4 Images)

Now he just hopes to work until the end of the year to pay back his loans.

“The global economy is getting worse and it’s affecting each and every business … I think during this time it’s hard to find any other job.”

UNPAID WAGES

No official statistics of how many people have left the UAE are available. But at least 200,000 workers, mostly from India but also from Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal, have left, according to their diplomatic missions.

Sectors like construction and retail were struggling even before the crisis, which exacerbated hardship for workers already exposed to payment delays.

Mohammed Mubarak has not been paid for around 11 months for security work at a Dubai theme park.

“The company doesn’t know when they’ll be able to pay us, and we are suffering,” the Ghanaian said.

Government coronavirus restrictions that forced many businesses to shutter for weeks began to ease in May. Shopping centres, water parks, bars and restaurants – all staffed by migrant workers – are once again open, raising hopes.

Zulfiqar, a Pakistani in Dubai for 12 years, sent his family home early in the outbreak but stayed on hoping for work, sharing a room and what cash he has with a dozen other unemployed men.

“Things in Pakistan are also not good,” he said.

By Alexander CornwellLisa Barrington and Davide Barbuscia, Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Giles Elgood

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Arab News tells us How Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too. Let us see what all is this about. How different is it to North Africa, say to Libya?

  • The importance of hygiene has led to an exponential increase in use of disposable plastic products
  • COVID-19 may have set the world back on a slippery slope with regard to overuse of plastic products

DUBAI: The COVID-19 pandemic has set the world back on the slippery slope of plastic overuse, just when it seemed as if plastic reduction was becoming an achievable goal, experts fear.

The priority of hygiene to combat the spread of the virus has led to a sharp increase in the consumption of disposable plastic products — gloves, single-use water bottles, cutlery, packaging and medical supplies — across the world.

In some Gulf cities, many dine-in customers are being served up to three plastic plates, cups and sets of cutlery for a single three-course meal.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too
https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https://www.arabnews.com/sites/default/files/userimages/1036116/15062020_covid_gulf.pdf&embedded=true

“It’s a disaster,” said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of the UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook. “The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted every aspect of our lives, from work to school and our daily tasks.

“It is unfortunate that sustainable practices that have taken a lot of work to implement have now been replaced, due to sanitization (requirements), by the use of single-use plastic bottles, cutlery and crockery in restaurants and delivery services.”

Last year, some communities across the UAE banned plastic use in restaurants, while supermarkets planned to charge customers for their plastic bags. Almost overnight, the initiative has taken a back seat.

In this photo taken on May 13, 2020, Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia, poses with discarded face masks he found on a beach in the residential area of Discovery Bay on the outlying Lantau island in Hong Kong. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is a contentious matter, as many would argue against any evidence that using reusables, if sanitized correctly, could in any way be dangerous,” Abella told Arab News.

“Dish-washing machines, high temperatures and dish soap have always been 100 percent efficient (as sanitizers) and always will be. And most of the plastic used is also not fully recyclable.

“Unfortunately, if plastic is not properly washed and cleaned, it is considered contaminated and will end up as general waste in landfills.”

Other sustainability experts concur. “If restaurants clean their tableware and cutlery with hot water and detergent after every use, there is no need for single-use items,” said Amruta Kshemkalyani, a UAE-based sustainability adviser and founder of Sustainability Tribe.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Women wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, sit at a restaurant in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping centre was reopened. (AFP/File Photo)

“Restaurants just need to pay extra attention to their tableware cleaning process. COVID-19 shouldn’t be used as an excuse to create unnecessary waste and harm the environment.”

Peter Avram, director of the Dubai-based Avani Middle East, which produces disposable packaging solutions and compostable plastic alternatives, said there had been a surge in the use of disposables during the current pandemic.

“Regrettably, due to the current economic situation, plastic is being preferred to the eco-friendly options simply because of costs,” he said. “Eco-friendly disposables are 20 to 30 percent more expensive.”

The UAE consumes an average of 450 plastic bottles of water per person per year – or more than four billion bottles annually.

“It hurts to see so many years of hard work from environmental organizations going ‘to waste’,” Abella said. “The relaxation on the [consumption of] single-use plastics, even if temporary, could quite likely have long-term consequences on consumer behavior.”

When Kshemkalyani started a zero-waste lifestyle in 2015, almost no restaurants and cafes in Dubai were aware of the concept of serving food and drinks in reusable containers.

The environmental cause is expected to return to the foreground when the crisis passes.

 Peter Avram, Director of Avani Middle East

Since then, the #zerowasteUAE social initiative and Sustainability Tribe have made tireless efforts to bring awareness to the community on waste issues.

“Now, in the name of hygiene and convenience, if the disposable culture gets popular again, it will be a big hurdle in society’s progress towards sustainable habits,” she said, especially when there is no evidence that a switch to single-use items is imperative during COVID-19.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Emiratis wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, buy coffee at a shop in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping centre was reopened. (AFP/File Photo)

Kshemkalyani questioned whether restaurants are recycling their plastic waste or just dumping it. “We do not want more waste in landfills that will further contaminate and pollute our land, water and air,” she said.

“Restaurants can start using their reusable serving sets and intensify the right cleaning and hygiene procedures. Instead of spending on single-use items, they have an opportunity to keep their manpower and use it wisely for intensified cleaning – this would also help employment.”

Kshemkalyani also recommended that restaurants allow customers to bring their own plates, cutlery and glasses. “Restaurants can also use environmentally friendly disposables, like palm leaf and wood [cutlery], as a temporary measure,” she said.

According to Abella, “It is important to keep the conversation going to use your consumer power to campaign for these changes.”

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Garbage litters the shore of Zouk Mikael, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on January 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

Although some outlets are seeking to offer alternatives, consumers should also vote with their wallets and ask restaurants to use sustainable alternatives, she said.

She said: “We should try to cook more at home and, if need be, choose restaurants that make an effort to serve their food in eco-friendly packaging.”

She pointed to the trend of people ordering more items than usual during the lockdown, with many of the items delivered in plastic containers, “wrapped in plastic and bagged in more plastic.”

Avram said that sustainability and recycling efforts must continue, pointing to the uptick in home composting procedures that many residents have begun to undertake to dispose of eco-friendly takeaway items.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

A man wearing a protective mask, as a precaution against COVID-19 coronavirus disease, walks outside an empty cafe along Tahlia street in the centre of the capital Riyadh on March 15, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“That has been very encouraging,” he said. “It is expected that the environmental cause will return to the foreground when the crisis has passed.”

Shams Hasan, air quality and corporate environmental responsibility expert at Envipro Consulting in the US, told Arab News: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created strange problems. Plastic items that were being phased out are at least temporarily back in use. The … fear is that during any crisis, society will start looking at an easy way out and apply ‘band-aid’ solutions instead of working on long-term strategies and solutions.”

Kristin Hughes, director of Global Plastic Action Partnership and a member of the executive committee, World Economic Forum, pointed to the challenge facing the world.

“We stand at the junction of two diverging paths,” she said. “One is a stop-gap solution that puts us solidly on track toward a not-so-distant future in which there is more plastic in the ocean than fish. The other is a sustainable model of living and working that will benefit us long into the future – one that will create a healthier, more equitable and more livable future for all.”

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

The recent pandemic is sparing no country around the world. It is confronted in a variety of ways that are fundamentally tied to each country’s specificities. Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs by Amir Vahdat and Joseph Krauss could be a solution that if generalised throughout could not only bring results. It could shorten the hardships of all current healthcare facilities efforts of the neighbouring countries.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran announced another 144 deaths from the coronavirus on Friday and said thousands more were in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibition center in the capital.

Iran has reported nearly 2,400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases. Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities.

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs
People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

In Yemen, meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development began scaling back aid efforts in areas controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels over their resistance to allowing measures that ensure aid goes to those who most need it. Yemen has yet to record any coronavirus cases, but an outbreak in the war-torn country could be catastrophic.

Iran’s military said the new facility, which includes three units and several isolation wards, was set up in just 48 hours. It will be used for patients who are recovering from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.

State TV on Thursday quoted Gen. Ali Jahanshahi as saying the hospital has been handed over to medical staff and will begin receiving patients next week.

Most people infected by the virus only experience mild symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe illness and death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems. It is highly contagious and can be spread by otherwise healthy people showing no visible symptoms.

The virus has infected more than half a million people worldwide and killed more than 24,000. More than 120,000 people have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the region. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the latest deaths on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,378 amid 32,332 confirmed cases.

He said nearly all of the approximately 2,900 newly confirmed cases are in critical condition. More than 11,000 people have been released from hospitals, according to the ministry.

Authorities have urged people to stay home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Iran has been under severe U.S. sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew his country from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers. The U.S. has offered humanitarian aid to Iran but authorities have refused.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refused American aid and seized on a conspiracy theory that the United States created the virus, something for which there is no scientific evidence.

Hundreds of Iranians have meanwhile been sickened or died from drinking methanol in the mistaken belief that it offers protection from the virus. Word of fake remedies has spread across social media in Iran, where many are deeply suspicious of the government after it initially downplayed the crisis.

Lebanon, which has reported 391 infections and seven deaths, will impose a nighttime curfew starting Friday. The country of nearly 5 million has been under lockdown for two weeks, with only essential businesses allowed to remain open, a measure that will remain in place for at least another two weeks.

Israel, meanwhile, has seen a surge in infections in recent days. It has reported 3,035 cases and 10 fatalities, mainly older patients with pre-existing conditions. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has reported 84 cases.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power there in 2007, have reported nine cases.

Gaza’s health care infrastructure has been severely eroded by years of conflict and isolation. A major outbreak in the territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, could be extremely difficult to contain.

Another major areas of concern is Yemen, where the Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition for five years. The war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions more and driven the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

A USAID spokesperson said it was suspending nearly $73 million in aid “in the face of long-standing Houthi interference in humanitarian operations.” The Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, areas home to 70% of the country’s population.

The spokesperson said USAID will continue to provide life-saving assistance in areas at risk of famine. It will also support U.N. flights, water and sanitation programs which are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. It will also continue providing aid in southern Yemen.

The spokesperson spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in keeping with regulations.

The Houthis have long sought to divert aid to their fighters and supporters. Last year, the rebels blocked half of the U.N.’s aid programs and resisted efforts to expand biometric registration and other measures to ensure aid was delivered to civilians.

But Samah Hadid, director of advocacy for Oxfam Yemen, expressed concern that USAID’s pullback could leave the country even more vulnerable to the pandemic.

“With the start of the rainy season, we are projecting that Yemen could face over one million cases of cholera this year,” she said. “Coupled with coronavirus, this would spell a catastrophe for Yemen.”

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Read more on the above-linked APNews original document and all the following related topics.