Yemen gravediggers, bulldozer join forces against Covid

A Yemeni worker digs graves as a bulldozer operates at a plot for Covid-19 victims at a cemetery in Yemen's third city of Taez
A Yemeni worker digs graves as a bulldozer operates at a plot for Covid-19 victims at a cemetery in Yemen's third city of Taez AHMAD AL-BASHA AFP
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Taez (Yemen) (AFP)

Between the mountain ranges of Taez, dozens of fresh graves are being hastily dug in Yemen's third city to deal with a spike in deaths from Covid-linked complications.

Groups of men, most of them wearing neither masks nor gloves, carry caskets to Al-Saeed cemetery and its row upon row of new graves.

At the same time a truck arrives, carrying mourners -- along with more bodies.

People are struggling to bury their dead in the southwestern city amid a surge in cases of coronavirus that the war-torn country is badly equipped to combat.

Besieged for years by Huthi rebels and their snipers, the gravediggers of Taez are under constant threat and cannot work fast enough.

Health measures, such as wearing surgical rubber gloves to bury Covid-19 victims, are not a priority here.

"We are receiving nine or 10 bodies a day," Shaban Qaed, a cemetery official, told AFP.

"We brought in people from the marketplace to dig with us but still haven't been able to keep up with demand for new graves, and we've had to hire a bulldozer."

Men in traditional costume gathered around the last freshly-dug graves on Saturday for a funeral procession, with the rumble of a bulldozer at work in the background.

In other parts of the cemetery, women in black sat near the graves, reading from the Koran holy book.

The United Nations says the number of new Covid-19 infections in the impoverished country has more than doubled in past weeks.

- 'Lot of neglect' -

The Saudi-supported government -- embroiled in a six-year war with the Iran-backed Huthi rebels -- has so far recorded more than 4,900 cases, among them close to 1,000 deaths.

But with inadequate testing facilities, delays in seeking treatment and difficult access to health centres, the UN says the official numbers fall far short of reality.

Yemen's health care system has been crippled, in what the UN says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"Why is there no government move to stop the spread of the pandemic?" read one sign held by Taez residents staging a protest at the cemetery.

"There's a lot of neglect and shortcomings on the part of the government, which is not performing its role," protester Ahmed al-Bukari told AFP.

"There were some measures during the first wave of the virus but still not up to standard," he said.

"For the second wave, which is more severe, authorities in Taez are not living up to their responsibility to protect people."

Yemen received a first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines last week, after its coronavirus committee warned of a public health "emergency" and called for a partial curfew.