‘Shameful milestone’ in Yemen as 10,000 children killed from violence

October 20, 2021 - 18:33

TEHRAN - UNICEF spokesperson James Elder has just returned from Yemen and has more grim news about children living in what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Addressing a press briefing in Geneva, he says, “The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone: 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign started in March 2015. That’s the equivalent of four children every day.”

Elder told reporters that the estimates provided by the international UN agency are most likely an undercount of the real toll of children’s deaths and injuries go largely unrecorded.

“These are of course the cases the UN was able to verify. Many more child deaths and injuries go unrecorded, to all but those children’s families”.

“I returned yesterday from a mission that took me to both the north and south of Yemen. 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.

He outlined the four main dangers that have taken the country to the brink of humanitarian collapse. 

Oxfam has warned a staggering 99% of Yemenis had not been vaccinated against Covid-19.“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) and a critically under-funded UN response.

The war on Yemen began in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia began a bombing campaign to reinstate a former regime that obeyed Saudi orders, in essence maintaining Yemen’s status as a parallel state to the Saudis. 

This was before a popular revolution took place in the country that prompted Saudi airstrikes. The United States provided the Kingdom with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons in addition to intelligence and logistic support for Saudi warplanes. The United Kingdom is widely believed to be the second largest arms supplier to Riyadh. Other western countries, including France and Canada, have also made a vast profit from the war. 

Rights groups have accused these countries of being complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen. One investigation found that a bomb dropped from a Saudi warplane in August 2018 that hit a school bus and killed more than 40 children was made in the United States. But that was just one bomb; Yemeni officials say most Saudi airstrikes have hit residential areas, and all Saudi bombs and missiles are purchased overseas. 

The UN Children’s agency chief also provided reporters with these bleak figures concerning the children of Yemen, from malnutrition to education to sanitation. 

“Let me share some more numbers:
4 out of every 5 children need humanitarian assistance. That’s more than 11 million children. 
400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. 

More than two million children are out of school. Another four million are at risk of dropping out. Two-thirds of teachers, more than 170,000, have not received a regular salary for more than four years.

1.7 million children are now internally displaced because of the violence. As violence intensifies, particularly around Marib, more families are fleeing their homes.

A staggering 15 million people (more than half of whom are children – 8.5 million) do not have access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene.
“At the current funding levels, and without an end to fighting, UNICEF cannot reach all these children. 

“There is no other way to say this without more international support, more children, those who bear no responsibility for this crisis will die.”

According to Elder, the UN children’s agency influences the ground, albeit on a limited scale. 

“And yet UNICEF is having an impact:
We are supporting the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in 4,000 primary health care facilities and 130 therapeutic feeding centers.

UNICEF is providing emergency cash transfers to 1.5 million households every quarter, benefitting around 9 million people.

We are providing safe drinking water to more than 5 million people.

We are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with the delivery of COVID vaccines through the COVAX initiative.

We are providing psychosocial support, mine risk education, and direct assistance for the most vulnerable children, including those who have survived war injuries.

Through UNICEF’s training and deployment of thousands of community health workers, more than two million people in remote rural areas have access to healthcare services.

“And this year alone we helped 620,000 children to access formal and non-formal education, and provided vaccines - including a polio campaign that reached more than five million children”.

Despite these and other efforts, the severity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen cannot be overstated. The economy is in a critical condition. GDP had dropped by 40 per cent since 2015 when the violence escalated. Vast numbers of people have lost their jobs, and family incomes have plummeted. About one-quarter of people; including many medical workers, teachers, engineers, and sanitation workers – rely on civil servant salaries that are paid erratically, if at all.

And while displacement and the destruction of schools have meant classrooms can have as many as 200 children in them, teachers turn up. Yes, unpaid teachers turn up and teach.

Elders says, “meeting them left me with no doubt as to the selfless commitment of everyday Yemenis, such as the pediatrician who cares for severely malnourished babies. The day I met her, she was treating a child whose life was hanging in the balance just a week earlier. With UNICEF supplies, this pediatrician saved the little girl’s life. The pediatrician had studied for a decade, including a Masters, and had been practicing medicine for eight years. She had not been paid once in 2021. Yet she continues to serve her community.”

In addition to the violence, Elder said many Yemenis are starving not because of a lack of food but from a lack of money to buy it.

“But such people are out of options, which means they are forced to sell everything from jewelry to cooking pots, just to feed their own children.
The bottom line: children in Yemen are not starving because of a lack of food; they are starving because their families cannot afford food.”

“UNICEF urgently needs more than US$235 million to continue its life-saving work in Yemen till mid-2022. Otherwise, the agency will be forced to scale down or stop its vital assistance for vulnerable children.
Funding is critical. We can draw a clear line between donor support and lives saved.”

Elder went on to call on all sides in the conflict to a ceasefire. 

And perhaps the most emotional remark Elders made at the press briefing that captured the level of the suffering was the following:

“Yemen is the most difficult place in the world to be a child. And, unbelievably, it is getting worse.”

He further stated that “even with increased support, the war must come to an end. Today UNICEF stated that Yemen had surpassed 10,000 children killed or maimed in the conflict. Must we really continue to add children to this miserable list month after month, year after year? He asked. 

Last month the United Nations warned that 16 million Yemenis, more than half of the population, are “marching towards starvation”, and unless the international community steps up support, food assistance could soon start to run out.

Oxfam has warned a staggering 99 percent of Yemenis had not been vaccinated against Covid-19, with the country battling a third deadly wave of infections. 

The charity group says, “we need the vaccines that have been promised, but it is also shameful that having bought up all the vaccines for themselves, rich countries like the UK and Germany are blocking the solutions.”

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