After a four-day visit in Yemen’s cities Aden and Sana, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund Henrietta Fore told journalists in Geneva today that “without peace, we cannot help these children, we cannot help the people in need, and there will be no return of livelihoods.”
Almost 10,000 people have died since a Saudi-led military coalition began fighting in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government to power after Huthi rebels took over Sanaa the year before.
At least 2,200 children have been killed and 3,400 injured, said UNICEF, assuming that the actual numbers may be even higher.
UNICEF’s director said that “we have been very worried about the collapse of two systems: One is the healthcare system, and the other is the education system. But when you go to Yemen, what you meet are officials who say “no, no, no, it actually has collapsed.”
Hospitals have been damaged, schools have turned into shelters or have been taken over by armed groups. Doctors, nurses and midwives have not been paid up to 2 years, but they still come to work being aware of cholera. Another group who did not get paid are the teachers, half of the schools are closed, young people are out on the street. Some 1,500 schools have been damaged in airstrikes and shelling in the past three years.
According to the UNICEF Director Fore, “22 million people in need – that is an extraordinary number – 11 million of those are children. 80% of the population is under the poverty level, we have 8,4 million that are on the brink of famine, and a child dies every ten minutes. So, you say to yourself, this is more than the population of Switzerland.”
5,000 families have fled their homes in Hodeida in the past two weeks. Shops, bakeries and restaurants in the city are largely closed, limiting the availability of supplies in the market.
In Hodeida where a Saudi-led coalition offensive is trying to drive out the Huthi rebels, Fore said that “things are getting worse. You know that there are severe water shortages, electricity is unavailable in most parts of the city, prices are up for all the basics – for grains and cereals, for cooking oil, for cooking fuel – so we are seeing that at least medical items for 250.000 women and children are in dire need. We see that one in four children are acutely malnourished, cholera cases are reported to be on the increase, and the escalation of violence means that many of the streets are now being trenched. This affects the water supply and the electricity.”
5,000 families have fled their homes in Hodeida in the past two weeks. Shops, bakeries and restaurants in the city are largely closed, limiting the availability of supplies in the market. UNICEF has been paying incentives to health workers in hospitals. The Children’s agency would like to do more of it also in the education system to try to keep school going since many teachers have fled violence and are no longer living in the community.
According to Henrietta Fore “the payment of, in some way, to the health workers, the educators and the health and sanitation workers – the incentive payments make a big difference, and this cash transfer to the actual people makes a big difference. And we need to do more of it.”
Together with the World Bank, UNICEF is providing to some 9 million people, a third of the country, a cash plus transfer program for the very poorest families. These families receive a payment of 40,- US for a 3 months period.
Henrietta Fore also mentioned another big problem for children in Yemen. She said that “they are very vulnerable to be recruited as child soldiers. They’re also very vulnerable to child traffickers. Yemen has always been a transit point, so there are elements that will abduct children, that will traffic them, will abduct them for child soldiers, child brides – early child marriage is a continuing problem and a growing problem. With so much poverty, it means that if you can place a child – a boy or a girl – in someone else’s household or into a militia, you do so because you cannot afford to feed them.”
Regarding Yemen’s cholera outbreak widely considered as one of the largest documented cholera epidemic in modern times, UNICEF’s director said that “people are still streaming in, many older people, but younger people with cholera and with severe acute watery diarrhea. And all of this, as you know, can kill a child. The under-five mortality rate remains very high. So we are worried.”