Early Days of COVID

Many of us are receiving messages of uncertainty from our loved ones regarding the coronavirus. This is totally understandable as something of this magnitude has not taken place for many of us in our life-times. At the same time however, it is important to mention that these ‘feelings’ are not new for millions of people around the globe.

This is not to dismiss the situation in the UK at all – no doubt it is extremely serious, primarily for the many elderly who are at significant risk. This is a pandemic and something we all have to take extremely seriously. What I am referring to though however is that the Covid-19 event we are going through is one of *many* disasters which have affected people in their daily lives.

To give one example, Yemen. Yemen as you will know has been under attack externally over the past 5 years from MBS and his counterparts. In addition, internal conflict between groups such as the Houthis, al-Mu’tamar etc coupled with Cholera and severe food shortages had created a disaster of such proportions that the UN in 2017 designated it the world’s ‘largest humanitarian crisis’.

A brief look at the sort of things general people felt on a daily basis (for years), I hope will allow us to sympathise, bear patience and thank Allah that we are not enduring that degree of anxiety. I could go further and reference Syria, or the plight of the Rohingya but I want to use Yemen as it was still a relatively ‘functioning’ country (if that’s the right term);

1) Cholera outbreak – Yemen in 2017/2018 went through the worst Cholera outbreak in history topping over a 1.2 Million cases. Cholera symptoms were typically severe diarrhea & vomiting resulting in heavy water loss and was transmitted via contaminated water/food, killing thousands of people. 

An example of how some people became desperate – In Hodaydah, a boy was fetching water from a well and mentioned his sister and grandfather died due to cholera. He said it was due to the water from that very well he was extracting, but because he didn’t have any other water source, he had no choice but to drink from it.

2) Checkpoints/Curfews – People could not easily travel in and out of certain locations. There could be 20/25 checkpoints between one city to another. These could be army or Militia – but in all cases everyone has a gun. Though still relatively fluid for locals in comparison to places like Palestine, Myanmar etc. there was still restriction of movement.

3) Street skirmishes- though not regular, certain areas are prone to street skirmishes between rival groups, similar to what preceded the death of Ali Abdullah Sāleḥ in Sana’a. Other areas such as Saa’da, Taiz or the South of Yemen within markets, public places etc are all possible flash-points meaning people needed to always be weary. 

4) Air strikes – Where we are now self-isolating the in the safety of our homes, those in countries like Yemen, Syria etc do not feel safe. Air strikes can occur at any time and often in the night. Screaming children, glass shattering and the general fear is something those in Yemen had to endure for a long time. 

5) Loss of business/wealth – Of course, the above all have a massive impact on livelihoods. From one side, businesses are destroyed due to airstrikes. An owner of a falafel shop in Yemen used to give free falafel sandwiches to every poor person who came – Alhamdulillah he was doing so well that he could afford to. Within months, his shop was completely destroyed. 

6) Lack of funds in the first place to buy food or basic household items. Approx. 79% of people in Yemen are under the poverty line – trying to afford basic necessities such as food, milk, petrol etc is extremely difficult. Add to this that prices fluctuate considerably – both foodstuffs become extremely expensive, whilst Yemeni riyal considerably devaluates. There are no governmental price controls, or cutting of interest rates, asking banks to delay mortgage repayments etc. One does the best they can and people support each other.

7) Internal displacement – A significant consequence of all of the above of course is that families would become displaced, unable to remain in their localities. People would move across cities, sheltering wherever they could and relying on friends, families or NGO’s to provide make-shift accommodation. Living like this is probably the most frightening as one doesn’t know what the next day brings. 

I mention the above, again *not* to belittle what we are going through during our isolation, but to allow us to appreciate our situation and to return back to Allah with patience, but also gratitude. One thing which stands out about our brothers and sisters in Yemen (and other places) is that they still maintain such positivity and trust in Allah. Their connection to Allah and their character and good nature still maintains.

May Allah (swt) help us all through this testing time and reward us.