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Yemen ‘a living hell for children’, UNICEF says

06 November 2018


A malnourished child at a hospital in Hajjah province, Yemen, last month

A malnourished child at a hospital in Hajjah province, Yemen, last month

AN ESTIMATED 30,000 children die each year of malnutrition in the “living hell” of war-torn Yemen, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

About 1.8 million children suffer from acute malnutrition in the country every year, while each day 400,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition, of whom 40 per cent live in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, where the crux of the war is raging.

Humanitarian agencies reported last week that thousands of Yemeni civilians were trapped on the southern outskirts of Hodeidah, as Saudi-led coalition forces battled Houthi rebels who infiltrated the city since 2014. The port is the primary gateway through which humanitarian organisations deliver basic supplies to the war-stricken country.

Since June, more than 170 people have been killed, and at least 1700 injured, in the Hodeidah governate, and more than 425,000 people have been forced to flee their homes (News, 3 August).

The UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere, said at a press conference in Amman, the capital of Jordan, on Sunday, that the situation in Yemen was “a living hell for children. A living hell not for 50-60 per cent of children — a living hell for every single boy and girl in Yemen.”

He dedicated the press conference to Amal Hussain, a seven-year-old Yemeni girl, who was pictured, skin and bones, on the front page of The New York Times last week, hours before she died of malnutrition.

Half of the population of children in Yemen under five years old are chronically malnourished, and more than one million pregnant or lactating women are anaemic, the UN reported.

PAA child suffering from diphtheria is treated at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, last month. As many as 141 diphtheria-infected patients have died in Sanaa this week, including 126 children

Mr Cappelaere said: “When giving birth, these women know that their children will be of low birth weight, starting that cycle of malnutrition and leading to chronic malnutrition and all the health consequences for these boys and girls.”

The cycle is also leaving women and children vulnerable to disease and death. “Every ten minutes, a child is dying from diseases that can be easily prevented,” he said. Only last month, the UN reported that nearly 13 million people in the country — two-fifths of the population — are at risk of starvation and death under the current level of Saudi-led air-strikes (News, 19 October).

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said last week that the “man-made” disaster had become desperate. “The international community has a real opportunity to halt the senseless cycle of violence and to prevent an imminent catastrophe.”

Angelina Jolie, the actress and UNHCR special envoy, agreed: “As an international community, we have been shamefully slow to act to end the crisis in Yemen.”

Plans are afoot for a UN security council resolution, however. The UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said on Monday that he was in talks with 14 other council members. “For too long in the Yemen conflict, both sides have believed a military solution is possible, with catastrophic consequences for the people.

“Now, for the first time, there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table, stop the killing and find a political solution that is the only long term way out of disaster.

“The UK will use all its influence to push for such an approach.”

In an unexpected move, the United States defence secretary James Mattis said last week that all parties in the conflict must take part in UN-led peace talks within the next 30 days. The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo urged the coalition to cease air-strikes in populated areas. It comes after the murder by Saudi agents of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, last month.

The US has been supporting Saudi Arabia and its ally, the United Arab Emirates, through billions of dollars in arms sales. On his first trip to Saudi Arabia in May last year, President Trump promised to sell £84 billion in US arms and equipment immediately, and a further £267 billion over the next decade. US arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia reached more than £4 billion last year — up from £1.3 billion in 2009, figures from the Campaign Against Arms Trade suggests.

During a debate on Yemen in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the Bishop of St Albans, the Dr Alan Smith, asked what representations the Government had made to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the use of British-built military hardware, which he and others were concerned could be used to carry out war crimes.

Lord Bates said that representations had been “strong” and that a joint centre had been established to “improve how targeting was done in a way that minimised civilians and in which allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law could be investigated and reports published.

He described the situation in Yemen as a “catastrophe”. “Yet again, where there are man-made conflicts and wars, women and children are the first to suffer.” He concluded: “Ultimately, this will be solved only by the parties to this conflict coming around the table, allowing a ceasefire.”


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