Few nations are without distress this year, but things are especially dire in Yemen, described as the neediest place on earth - and for good reason. It is the site of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, stoked by a civil war that broke out in 2014. Its economy and infrastructure are devastated by continual bombings and blockades, leaving nearly two-thirds of its population of 30 million dependent on aid that has shrivelled up as most donor nations experience recession. The World Food Programme, which received the Nobel Peace Prize last week, runs its largest operation there. On top of the war that has taken at least 100,000 lives, Yemen has been stalked by disease. Before the coronavirus entered the picture, it had been ravaged by cholera - some 180,000 new cases were reported this year - along with diphtheria, dengue and malaria. Covid-19, first detected in April, has killed 600 and infected over 2,000. This is likely an underestimate. Testing facilities are severely lacking and only half of the country's health centres are fully operational. The United Nations says Covid-19 deaths could exceed 230,000 with a death rate five times the global average.
An additional source of volatility was the battle there last year between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda for territory and recruits. Even as the so-called ISIS caliphate collapsed, its ideology continues to incite violence and is a source of concern for governments from West Africa to South-east Asia. Last week, it was revealed that a Singaporean man had been detained under the Internal Security Act for being actively involved in the civil war in Yemen and for working as a paid agent for a foreign power while he was there.