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The race against time to save lives in Yemen

Nearly 2.2 million children in Yemen are malnourished [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2017

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The United Nations is appealing for $2.1 billion in international assistance this year for Yemen – the war-torn country facing famine.

An alarming 18.8 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian aid; seven million people don't know where their next meal will come from and are in desperate need of food assistance while nearly 2.2 million children are malnourished.

These shocking figures are yet another stark reminder of the deteriorating situation that has been haunting the Arab world's poorest nation for more than two years.

"Without further action from parties to the conflict and the international community, Yemen is at a serious risk of plunging into famine," said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF's director for Mideast and North Africa.

"Even more children's lives are hanging in the balance."

The conflict erupted after peaceful demonstrations calling for the downfall of the Saleh regime in 2011 were met with violent and brutal responses. Ali Abdullah Saleh was given immunity and removed from power and was replaced with Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi.

In September 2014, the Houthi rebels, a group which Saleh had previously fought when in power, aligned with the ousted leader to bring down the new transitional government.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign to help the internationally recognised government regain control of territory lost to the Houthi rebels.

When a country reaches a stage of famine, it means many lives have already been lost. We should never reach a point where we see children dying of starvation and bereaved mothers mourning their loss on television screens

The war has so far killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed the country to the brink of famine. It has also led to the displacement of some three million Yemenis.

The continuing violence in Yemen is now fuelling one of the worst hunger crises in the world, says the United Nations.

"When a country reaches a stage of famine, it means many lives have already been lost. We should never reach a point where we see children dying of starvation and bereaved mothers mourning their loss on television screens,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe.

Read more on the crisis here: Yemen: The tragedy deepens

Nearly half a million children are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death if they do not receive urgent care and specialised treatment, aid agencies have warned.

Children make up a third of civilian casualties in the war-torn country, with an average of nearly six child casualties every day, Save the Children reported.

Violence and food insecurity are having a devastating toll on families’ incomes forcing them and their children to take extreme measures just to survive, including early marriage and joining the fighting, UNICEF said. 

In the first three months of 2017, three times as many children were recruited and used by parties to the conflict compared with the last three months of 2016.

Humanitarian aid groups have sought greater access to people in need, calling for a halt to airstrikes by the Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition and a greater respect for international humanitarian law.

In the first three months of 2017, three times as many children were recruited and used by parties to the conflict compared with the last three months of 2016

With hopes of making some difference, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met with top diplomats in Geneva on Tuesday to collect funds for "one of the world's greatest humanitarian crises."

Guterres and top government officials from Switzerland and Sweden co-hosted a pledging conference in the Swiss city aimed at collecting at least $2.1 billion in a UN relief appeal that was launched this year.

"Yemen today is experiencing a tragedy of immense proportions," the UN Secretary General told country representatives gathered in Geneva for the conference.

"We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation," he said. Appealing to donors, he stressed that "a famine can be prevented if we act quickly and commit to funding crucial life-saving assistance".

By Tuesday, only 15 percent of that appeal had been funded, Guterres said.

Many areas of Yemen are on the brink of famine, and the cause of such extreme starvation is political

Meanwhile, Save the Children urged for the need to provide children with safe spaces and psychological support, and help the minors forcibly recruited by armed groups in Yemen.

"During this one-day donor conference another six children will be killed or injured – the unacceptable cost of the world’s failure to act," said Grant Pritchard, Save the Children's interim Yemen director.

"As famine looms closer, funding for food and nutrition is vital for saving children's lives right now, but they also need safety and a future.

"We must invest in education and protection before we lose an entire generation of psychologically scarred and uneducated children," Pritchard added.

Oxfam stressed that the cause of such extreme starvation is political.

"While aid will provide welcome relief, it will not heal the wounds of war that are the cause of Yemen's misery," said Sajjad Mohamed Sajjad, Oxfam's country director in Yemen.

"International backers need to stop fuelling the conflict, make it clear that famine is not an acceptable weapon of war and exert real pressure on both sides to restart peace talks," Sajjad added.

The needs of people in Yemen have rapidly outpaced available resources, UNICEF explained, adding that the World Food Programme urgently requires $1.2 billion to meet the basic requirements of nine million food insecure people in Yemen over the coming 12 months.

UNICEF has appealed for $236 million to provide life-saving assistance to children affected by the conflict in Yemen in 2017, but the efforts of both agencies are less than 20 per cent funded.

"We are in a race against time," UNICEF's Cappelaere said. 

 

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