By Owei Lakemfa
WE have gone just a quarter into 2020. Yet we have lost at least 43,000 souls to a tiny virus that has become an unseen and unwelcome guest which forces itself on us. Some 900,000 humans have been unwilling hosts. It is an adversary that dictates we maintain forced spacing in a world that should unite.
It is like the rain which does not fall on one person’s roof. American President Donald Trump made a mistake in scoffing at another country and calling humanity’s most dreadful enemy in ages, the “Chinese Virus”. He might have assumed that his country, the world’s most powerful, cannot be brought down to its heels. But he was mistaken. Where China had 81,554 victims and 3,312 deaths, the United States, US, as at Wednesday, had 183,532 victims with 3,727 deaths, surpassing the Chinese figures.
These are times that call for empathy irrespective of our views, creed, region, race or politics. The times call for human compassion with everybody enjoined to come to each other’s aid.
This is why my heart goes out to the Iranians who over the last three weeks have witnessed untold human suffering and death in the hands of the virus. Five days ago, they had 123 deaths within a day, pushing the toll to 2,640 from 38,309 confirmed cases. What seems certain is that Iran would have had a better fighting chance had its hands not been tied behind its back by the quite hurtful ropes of sanctions knotted by the Americans who since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, have come to see that country as an enemy that must be destroyed. With an economy in dire straits, the Americans stopping other countries doing business with them, preventing them from selling their oil or obtaining a life-line $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to fight the virus, the Iranians decided against total lockdown as their crawling economy is unable to sustain such a logical step.
Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, in reacting to calls for a complete lockdown to slowdown or stop the spread of the virus, said: “Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us. We must put these principles together to reach a final decision. This is not the time to gather followers. This is not a time for political war.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the Europeans who cannot be said to be on the same political page with the Iranians, have stretched out to assist them combat the virus. The United Nations has also called for the easing or removal of sanctions against countries to enable them fight the pandemic. Its Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, sent out a universal cry: “At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended (sanctions should be lifted) to avoid the collapse of any country’s medical system – given the explosive impact that will have on death, suffering and wider contagion.”
Under the American sanctions even the international transfer of sales for medical equipment to Iran needed to fight the virus, attracts fines. Also, there are sanctions against Iranian ships and insurance even for food or medical supplies.
Tragically, rather than listen to such pleas, the American administration on March 25, expanded the sanctions to cover more Iranian companies, and later, extended some of the earlier sanctions. So, rather than grant the Iranians sanctions relief to fight the virus, even as a humanitarian gesture, the Americans are tightening the noose; for some Iranians, the Americans are no different from the unrelenting and life-destroying Covid-19 virus.
Rather than surrender to American dictates, a defiant Rouhani told Iranians: “We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date.”
It is a sick and inhuman political calculation which hopes that a combination of punishing sanctions and a death harvest by Covid-19 will bring down the Iranian government and return the country to its pre-1979 subservience to the United States.
Logically, a global pandemic requires a global response and solution because a neglected part can affect the whole, but the Trump administration does not seem to buy this; it appears determined to exclude the Iranians from the rest of humanity.
In Yemen, the Saudis are executing a far more sinister agenda. Over the years, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have tried to bomb historic Yemen back to the stone age. Their targets are mainly civilian, especially schools, markets social gatherings, hospital and health facilities.
The Physicians for Human Rights and the Yemeni Mwatana for Human Rights, have documented 120 Saudi attacks against medical facilities across 20 of the country’s 22 governorates between March 2015 and 2018.
After five years of Saudi intervention in the Yemeni war which has led to widespread malnutrition, and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the generality of the populace cannot even afford to buy soap to wash their hands not to talk about sanitisers. Even for those who can afford soap, there is no running water. In any case, how do you talk about running water when many of the buildings have been bombed, and in many cases, it is safer to be out in the open than in any confined place that can be easily bombed. So, for many Yemenis, the WHO campaign that people should stay at home cannot apply. In pre- Covid-19 times, the Yemeni health system had been so destroyed that it could not even tackle preventable diseases; when there was a cholera attack, it affected over one million persons. Additionally, the Saudi Coalition has in place, an embargo that does not let in medicines and food. Even if emergency tent hospitals were to be built in Yemen to treat virus patients, there is no electricity.
In these circumstances, it would have been expected that there would be restraints, but claiming one or two missile attacks by the Houthis, the Saudis on Monday, March 30, carried out one of the most devastating and comprehensive attacks on Sanaa; at least 19 airstrikes which targeted health facilities and even a horse stable. With such merciless and unconscionable carpet bombing, Yemen stands no chance to fight COVID-19.
While Saudi Arabia is endangering Yemen and leaving it defenceless against the virus, it is protecting its own citizens, including suspending the Umrah pilgrimage and locking down the country. Its King Salman on March 26, asked the Group of 20 major economies, G20, to help fund a cure and vaccine for COVID-19 and ensure their availability globally. But how can the world tackle the virus with Yemen abandoned?