UN: plight of child victims of the war in Yemen "devastating"
Situations of "extreme need". At least 1.5 million children suffer from malnutrition, of which 370 thousand in critical condition. Rickets found among half of children under five. The naval blockade imposed by the Saudis sharpens the emergency.
Sana'a (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The condition of children in Yemen, undernourished because of the ongoing war for 18 months, is "absolutely devastating." This was contained in a report by the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Coordination, Stephen O'Brien, in an interview with reporters in the capital Sana'a, at the conclusion of a two-day official visit. The top diplomat has visited a hospital in the city of Hodeida on the Red Sea, where he met "very young children, suffering from malnutrition."
Confirming the seriousness of the situation, Stephen O'Brien thanked humanitarian agencies present in the field for their work in trying to alleviate the "dire need" of food in the country. "We must do more" he points out at the end of the first visit in more than a year. "We must do everything we can - he adds - to meet the large scale needs, that have emerged in Yemen."
According to data provided by UNICEF, in Yemen there are about three million people in "immediate" need of food and basic necessities; at least half of the 28 million population is facing chronic shortages of food.
At the same time, the UN agency for children says about 1.5 million children are suffering from malnutrition, of which 370 thousand are in critical condition due to a general weakening of the immune system. About half of children under five years have rickets because of chronic malnutrition.
A maritime blockade on rebel-held areas, imposed by the Saudi led Arab coalition that supports President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, prevents the ships reaching the ports and delivering supplies, aid and stocks (food and non).
For the UN under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs the "best solution at a humanitarian level" is a "political" breakthrough in the "crisis" that silences the guns. However, until an agreement is reached, he warns, it is "our duty to work with everyone to respond to humanitarian needs" and "have the opportunity to do so" in an "impartial" way wherever there are "needs to be met."
Since January 2015, Yemen has been the scene of a bloody internal conflict pitting the country’s Sunni leaders, backed by Riyadh, against Shia Houthi rebels, close to Iran.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes against the rebels in an attempt to free the capital Sana'a and bring back then exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. So far the air campaign – criticised by the UN - has killed at least 6,600 people, mostly civilians and many children. At least 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.
For Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, allied to forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, are supported militarily by Iran, a charge that Tehran rejects.
Extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and jihadist militias linked to Islamic State are active in the country, a fact that has helped escalate violence and terror.