EIGHT children a day are being killed or injured in 31 conflict zones in Yemen while the United Nations struggles to end the deadlock between warring parties, more than two months after a peace deal was agreed in Stockholm.
Five children were killed in an attack on the Tahita district, south of the port city of Hodeidah, last week, the UN has confirmed.
The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said in a statement on Saturday: “In Yemen, children can no longer safely do the things that all children love to do — like go to school or spend time with their friends outside. . .
“Each day, eight children are killed or injured across 31 active conflict zones in the country. The war’s horrific toll on children continues despite the agreement reached by parties to the conflict late last year in Stockholm, and despite the humanitarian funding commitments made this past week at the pledging conference in Geneva.
“Talks and conferences have so far done little to change the reality for children on the ground. Only a comprehensive peace agreement can give Yemeni children the reprieve from violence and war that they need and deserve.”
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, visited the city of Aden, in Yemen, at the weekend. He was the first UK Foreign Secretary to do so since 1996. Mr Hunt had attended the UN talks in Stockholm in December when the peace deal was agreed, and further discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States, in Warsaw, last month.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday that, while bombs had stopped falling in Hodeidah, “the humanitarian crisis is happening now.”
Saudi-led coalition forces continue to battle Houthi rebels, who infiltrated the city in 2014, sparking the civil war, although both forces had agreed to leave as part of the Stockholm peace deal (News, 21 December 2018). The port is the primary gateway through which humanitarian organisations deliver basic supplies to the war-stricken country.
“We have 50,000 metric tons of World Food Programme grain in the port that [is] stuck there and cannot be delivered to the people of Yemen,” he said.
“The Houthis now control the port and city of Hodeidah; they agreed that they would leave, but what they are saying, and the cause of the deadlock, is that . . . they wanted Hodeidah to be under mutual control . . . and they are worried that, if they leave, the other side will just move in.”
But the UN had agreed to monitor a police force independent of either side, he said. “It is building that trust. . . We keep being on the brink of a breakthrough, but not quite getting there. The worry is that it has been over 80 days since the agreement, and the longer it takes, the more confidence is dented.”
Mr Hunt conceded that UK was not independent of the situation, since it was supplying arms to the Saudi coalition. “If we were cynically trying to sell weapons, we would want the conflict to continue, and we don’t. . . I am trying to build peace.”
UK procedure meant that judgement on whether weapons supply breached humanitarian law by causing civilian casualties was not made by politicians, he said. “Because we have a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we are able to have very frank conversations in private with them and able to push the peace process forward.”
He said in a statement during his visit: “The process could be dead within weeks if we do not see both sides sticking to their commitments in Stockholm.”