UNICEF warns of catastrophe for Yemeni children

Yemeni children
  • The United Nation Children’s Fund has predicted dire consequences for the children of the war-torn country in the absence of urgent humanitarian aid.

As the five-year civil war rages on in Yemen, its children are slipping deeper into malnutrition. In a report released on Friday, UNICEF asked for $500 million in immediate humanitarian assistance, failing which there would be a 20% increase in the number of malnourished children to 2.4 million by the end of the year. Many of them will die due to starvation, in addition to those that will needlessly die from preventable causes as the pandemic tears through the country’s teetering healthcare system.

UNICEF Yemen representative Sara Beysolow Nyanti said that thousands of childhoods have already been lost to the war and many more will now be lost to the pandemic.

The official figures of COVID-19 cases declared by the internationally recognised government is 900, with 250 deaths. This is thought to be an underestimated, notwithstanding the lack of information coming in about the infection in Houthi-held areas. Health officers say that the virus is spreading rapidly and, worryingly, the mortality rate in the country is 25%, almost five times the global average. And the UN says it has less than 40% of the $53 million it needs to fight the coronavirus in the country.

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There are no doctors in 18% of the country’s districts and health facilities are under strain, already unable to handle the recurrent cholera outbreaks caused by decimated water and sanitation systems. Children are most prone to this, with nearly 9.58 million children deprived of safe water and hygiene. Also with all education ceased, 7.8 million of them don’t go to school, making them vulnerable to child labour, recruitment to armed groups and child marriage.

And the UN simply does not have the funds to keep Yemen from falling off the cliff, with 80% of the country in need of humanitarian assistance and two-thirds of the population reliant of food aid. At a virtual donor conference in June, barely $1.35 billion was pledged for aid operations in Yemen, less than the $2.4 billion that was required and the $3.6 billion that was donated last year.

UNICEF has warned that unless immediate aid is disbursed, 23,000 children will be at the risk of dying because of malnutrition by August. And 5 million children under 5 will not have access to vaccines that could potentially save their lives.

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