AMIDST much doom and gloom across the world, a faint flicker of hope has appeared for the impoverished and war-weary people of Yemen as a two-week unilateral ceasefire declared by the Saudi-led coalition took effect on Thursday. The coalition had been pummelling Yemen since March 2015 in an effort to drive out the Houthi ‘Ansar Allah’ movement, believed to be allied with Iran, and that controls the capital Sana’a. Far from dislodging the Houthis, the Saudi-led war, supported by some of Riyadh’s Gulf allies as well as the US and many in Europe, has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Yemen, unleashing death, destruction and hunger upon some of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable people. The truce comes after the UN appealed for a cessation of hostilities, while the Saudis say they made the move to prevent a coronavirus outbreak in Yemen. As opposed to previous reckless decisions, this appears to be a mature move from Riyadh, and all parties in Yemen, specifically the Houthis, should reciprocate.
However, a Houthi spokesman has been quoted as saying that they will continue to fight until the blockade of Yemen — enforced by the coalition — has been lifted. Considering the miseries confronting the Yemeni people, and the threat Covid-19 poses to the country, the Houthis should reconsider their rigid stance. Continuing to target Saudi cities and installations will surely draw a response from Riyadh, and the grim cycle of death in Yemen will only be prolonged. For the sake of the Yemeni people, the ceasefire must be respected by all. Moreover, the fact is that a coronavirus outbreak would have an even more devastating impact on Yemen, shattered as it has been after years of conflict.
Many in the international community have been unmoved by the plight of Yemenis, despite harrowing images coming out of the country of malnourished children and tiny coffins. However, now with Covid-19 — a foe that does not discriminate on national, religious or political grounds — ravaging the planet, the realisation seems to have dawned on those involved in the Yemeni conflict that something needs to be done. Saudi Arabia is grappling with its own coronavirus outbreak, with over 3,000 reported cases, and this may have played a role in the declaration of the ceasefire. And while no cases have been reported in Yemen, one shudders to think what the situation would be in the country should a Covid-19 outbreak be confirmed, as the health system barely exists, and infrastructure is in a shambles. However, the Houthis have a point in their demand for the blockade to be lifted. Considering the situation, aid must reach the Yemeni people unhindered, and were the blockade to be lifted, the ceasefire may increase the chances of success. If this experiment in peacemaking succeeds, more formal peace talks would also be given an impetus.
THE consequences of the leaden-footed initial response to the coronavirus cases in much of the country are becoming clearer by the day. It has recently emerged that a large number of the 1,160 pilgrims who had arrived in Multan on March 20 from Iran via Taftan and earlier tested negative for the virus have since contracted the disease — a result of shambolic quarantine conditions in which they were detained in Multan. What makes the lapse so grave is that upon being released from detention, during which they interacted freely with infected patients housed in the same facility, they were allowed to return to their home districts. And even though they were quarantined at the end of their journey, they would have unwittingly spread the disease among uninfected fellow travellers and those they mingled with along the way. It seems the Multan district administration was not sufficiently backed by the provincial authorities in its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus among the pilgrims. The Punjab health department, despite requests by senior district officials, reportedly dragged its feet on testing them again before they went to their hometowns. Then, when the pilgrims— who had already spent a fortnight each of quarantine in Taftan and Multan — grew agitated upon being informed they would be tested again after all and have to remain in place pending the results, the police refused to intervene and restore order. The situation became fraught enough for the army to be called in. As a ‘compromise’, the pilgrims agreed to their samples being collected and sent off for testing while they were returned to their home districts.
As the results of those tests reveal, these are precisely the lapses in judgement, on the part of both the public and officialdom, which have spurred the spread of the virus. They will make it all the more difficult to ‘flatten the curve’, which would prevent the country’s already inadequate health facilities from being overwhelmed. Health protocols to address the various challenges posed by the pandemic, including those arising from the public’s cultural predispositions, should have been defined more clearly. After all, it was two months between the lockdown in Wuhan and the discovery of the first Covid-19 case in Pakistan — although to be fair, many other countries too dropped the ball. There needs to be a more coordinated, holistic approach to this crisis: half-measures and mixed messaging will merely exacerbate it.
Cruelty to animals
WHILE the rest of Sindh was — and continues to be — under lockdown, hundreds of animals in Karachi’s Empress Market perished due to suffocation and starvation. The market had shuttered down two weeks earlier, after a lockdown was first announced by the provincial government on March 22. In haste, the shop owners evidently did not take any steps to ensure the protection of the animals in their care. Only a handful were rescued, thanks to the efforts of animal rights activists.However, by the time they reached, they noted that around 70pc of them were already dead, their lifeless bodies strewn on the floors of the shops. Even in the original epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan, thousands of animals left abandoned inside their homes during a strict lockdown were rescued by a concerned group of animal lovers. Like many diseases before it, the novel coronavirus too began from an animal source, and is likely to be connected to the international wildlife trade that is notorious for its ill treatment of animals.
Recently, in an article for the Financial Times, Arundhati Roy wrote that “…in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality”. In a world where it is ‘normal’ to treat all living creatures as commodities to use and discard at will, and where human desire reigns supreme, animal rights are barely given a thought. Beyond necessity, they are seen as a means to an end — and the end is often profit — to satisfy human consumption and frivolity. While the pet industry is cruel in itself, encouraging practices such as breeding, perhaps nowhere is this brutality more evident than in modern factory farming. Millions of animals are abused, caged in small spaces, while those deemed ‘useless’ are exterminated without a thought — and this is just the tip of the iceberg.