Back from a mission to the Mideast country, the UNICEF spokesman speaks out, warning that these official figures do not include unrecorded deaths and injuries. At least 11 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance, their right to an education and childhood denied. The country remains the “most difficult place in the world” in which to grow up.
Geneva (AsiaNews) – “The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone,” said James Elder, UNICEF spokesman.
Some 10,00 children have been “killed or maimed” since the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in the conflict in March 2015, Elder said at a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. “That’s the equivalent of four children every day,” he lamented.
The UNICEF spokesman, who is back from a diplomatic mission to the Mideast country, stressed that, that these are official figures that do not take into account unrecorded child deaths and injuries.
In addition, four out of five children – about 11 million – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, while another 400,000 suffer from severe malnutrition according to official statistics.
Two million of them are denied any right to education and cannot attend schools, half of which have been destroyed or damaged by bombs. Another four million are likely to be deprived of it in the near future.
“I returned yesterday from a mission that took me to both the north and south of Yemen,” Elder explained. “I met scores of children, many inspiring; all suffering. I met pediatricians, teachers, nurses – all shared personal stories that mirror those of their country: they are on the brink of total collapse.”
The war in Yemen broke out in 2014 pitting the pro-Saudi government and Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels.
In March 2015, the conflict got worse with the direct Saudi intervention, resulting in over 130,000 deaths and the “world’ worst” humanitarian crisis according to the United Nations.
The latter has been aggravated by the “devastating” effects of COVID-19 with millions of people on the verge of hunger and children set to suffer the consequences for the next 20 years.
Factories, schools, hospitals and public and private companies have been destroyed, sinking the economy, while ceasefire talks between Saudi and Houthi representatives are still at an impasse.
In recent weeks, fighting has centred around Marib, the last government stronghold in the north, which is controlled by the rebels. The violence in a strategic region rich in natural gas has displaced more than 10,000 people in a short time.
For Elder, "Yemen’s humanitarian crisis – the world’s worst - represents a tragic convergence of four threats: (1) A violent and protracted conflict, (2) economic devastation, (3) shattered services for every support system - that is, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, protection and education, (4) & a critically under-funded UN response.”
For example, two thirds of teachers (at least 170,000) have not been paid a regular salary for four years and 15 million people, more than half of whom are children (8.5 million) do not have access to drinking water, sanitation or hygiene.
Ultimately, “children in Yemen are not starving because of a lack of food – they are starving because their families cannot afford food,” the UNICEF envoy explained.
“They are starving because adults continue to wage a war in which children are the biggest losers.” At present, "Yemen is the most difficult place in the world to be a child. And, unbelievably, it is getting worse."