Following a visit to war-torn Yemen, UNICEF Chief Henrietta Fore has expressed her condemnation of the impact that the war has had on Yemeni children. The Executive Director of UNICEF returned on July 3rd from a four-day visit to the cities of Aden and Sana’a – among the worst impacted by the ongoing civil war reaching its fourth year. The youngest members of society are particularly susceptible to harm in this unflinching battleground. Around 5000 children have been killed or injured since it began and the numbers climb daily.
In a press release, Ms. Fore outlined the disastrous effects that the Yemen civil war has had on the region’s children, resulting in approximately “11 million … without proper access to food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.” In fact, Ms. Fore reported that since the beginning of the war, at least 2,200 children have been killed and around 3,400 have been injured. The UNICEF Chief adamantly insists that there is “no justification for this carnage” and that “the protection of children… should remain paramount at all times.” Her stance backs that of the UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere’s, who expressed bluntly in an earlier statement this year how “we collectively continue failing to stop the war on children.”
With casualty rates this high, Yemen’s civil war has inevitably become a ‘war on children,’ with so many young lives getting lost in collateral damage and sometimes as direct targets. According to a recent UNICEF report, approximately 1,500 schools have been damaged and low attendance rates, a pre-existing issue in Yemen, has only magnified as a result. Today, nearly 2 million children in Yemen are out of school and aren’t able to access an education. Disturbingly, Ms. Fore reported that it was routine for children to be “taken out of school, forced to fight… (or) married off,” while UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres confirmed that child marriage rates have risen with so many families struggling to support themselves.
Although, detrimental to all ages, is a lack of food and water. Food insecurity coupled with a lack of healthcare services has resulted in “nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old chronically malnourished,” according to Mr. Guterres. The impacts of malnutrition can be long-lasting and sometimes fatal. If children are the future, the future of Yemen is either starving-hungry; sick; abused or deceased.
The war in Yemen was declared ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ in April of 2018 and yet more than half of the required $2.96 billion needed for the UN’s humanitarian response plan has not been met. An air, land and sea blockade imposed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is proving yet another obstacle for getting supplies into the region. Without political talks or significant international aid, the continuation of a stalemate seems likely and anarchy within the fractured nation will continue, posing the additional threat that terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS may continue to expand their influence in the Middle East.
With no plan of action, limited funding and interrupted passage of supplies, the people of Yemen are defenceless and its children are being subjected to multiple counts of human rights abuse. Ms. Fore urged that a “political solution to the conflict” be made for the sake of Yemen’s future in the Middle East and pleaded that we, as a global community, “give peace a chance. It is the only way forward.”