Millions of children could be squeezed to starvation as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across war-torn Yemen amid a “huge” case in funding humanitarian aid, the United Nations Children’s Agency warned Friday.
The sharp prediction comes in a new UNICEF report, “Yemen Five Years on: Children, Conflict and COVID-19.” It said the number of malnourished Yemeni children could amount to 2.4 million at the end of the year, an increase of 20% in the current figure.
“As Yemen’s ruined health system and infrastructure struggle to deal with coronavirus, the already difficult situation for children will worsen significantly,” UNICEF warned.
Yemen’s poor healthcare infrastructure is not prepared to fight the coronavirus pandemic after five years of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The war, which has mostly been killed, has also triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict erupted in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition took on behalf of the internationally recognized government, which the Houthis had forced into exile when they crossed the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north the year before.
The situation in Yemen is only expected to get worse as donor countries recently lowered support. Yemen has officially registered more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, including 275 deaths. But the actual number is assumed to be much higher as the test features are severely limited.
“If we do not receive urgent funds, children will be pressed for starvation and many will die,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF representative for Yemen. “The international community will send a message that the lives of children … simply do not matter.”
The pledge conference brings together $ 1.35 billion
UNICEF also warned that unless $ 54.5 million is paid for health and nutrition assistance by the end of August, more than 23,000 children will be at increased risk of dying from acute malnutrition. It also said that 5 million others in 5 years will not have access to vaccines against deadly diseases.
International aid organizations are concerned about the significant reduction in humanitarian funds previously promised by donor countries. At a virtual pledge conference for Yemen, hosted by the UN and Saudi Arabia on June 2, 31 donors raised $ 1.35 billion for humanitarian aid – a billion dollars less than the relief agency needed and half of the countries that had promised in 2019.
UNICEF could secure only 40% of the $ 461 million it invoked to cover its humanitarian response to the Yemen crisis, and less than 10% of the $ 53 million it needs to deal with COVID-19’s impact on children, said the report.
“UNICEF works around the clock in incredibly difficult situations to help children in desperate need, but we have only a fraction of the funding needed to do so,” Nyanti said.
UNICEF’s report came on the heels of a warning from UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who told a closed UN Security Council meeting that Yemen could “fall off the cliff” without massive financial support.
Lowcock added that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the poorest country in the Arab world, killing about 25% of confirmed cases – five times the global average.
Half of Yemen’s health care is dysfunctional and 18% of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed, resulting in recurrent cholera outbreaks. About 9.6 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation or hygiene, and two-thirds of the country’s approximately 30 million people rely on food assistance.