October 2016 – Written by Romane Frouté
« There is no end in sight to this deadly conflict. Close to 10 million children face fear, pain and deprivation. Children do not start wars, yet are the most vulnerable to their deadly effects. » (UNICEF, 2016)
A violent conflict and a fast-deteriorating humanitarian crisis are devastating the lives of millions of children in Yemen and have brought the country to a catastrophic situation. Since March 2015, the Yemenis have been facing continued air strikes, and ground fighting, leading to the destruction of schools and hospitals, malnutrition and poor access to water. Currently, 1 in 6 children is killed or injured everyday in Yemen (UNICEF,2015).
During this upcoming week, the McGill Students for UNICEF club is aiming to raise awareness about the Yemen crisis, and all the money raised with the Dear to Wear challenge will go toward UNICEF’s Yemen Emergency Fund. This article will focus on explaining the conflict, and show why UNICEF’s Yemen appeals is vital for the Yemeni population.
A child in Sanaa after an airstrike destroyed his house (Rahama/UNICEF annual report on Yemen)
The political situation in Yemen
In May 1990, North Yemen and South Yemen merged to form the current Republic of Yemen. The political situation stayed unstable for most of the 1990s and 2000s, with tensions raging between Houthi rebels (from North Yemen) and Saoudis, Al Qaeda and other Islamist organizations. In 2011, following Arab Spring protests, the Yemen Revolution created a political chaos. Protesters demanded change in the Yemeni constitution and the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen for the past 22 years (MD,2016).
The president resigned in 2013 but the political transition did not go smoothly and Houthis, supporters of Saleh and opposing the new government, started occupying militarily the North and controlling the capital Sana’a in September 2014. Meanwhile, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s forces, the president named after Saleh, established control of the South and in the city of Aden. Houthis advanced further south in March 2015, which triggered the Yemen Civil War, opposing them to Hadi’s forces, which had obtained the support of the Saudi Arabia government and launched airstrikes in the North in response. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS have exploited the political turmoil in the country and also carried out attacks. Both are currently competing for new recruits in the southern and eastern parts of Yemen. Now 20 out of Yemen’s 22 governorates have
become battlegrounds. According to the UN, from March 2015 to August 2016, over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen (ACAPS, 2016).
Impact on the Yemeni population
Continued air strikes, shelling and ground fighting have resulted in the destruction and damage of civilian infrastructure and the disintegration of public services. Supplies of food, fuel and medicines are lacking, and more than 21.2 million people (82 % of the population), including 9.9 million children, need humanitarian help. Approximately 2.3 million people are now internally displaced, 14.1 million people are in need of access to basic health care and food assistance, and 19.3 million people are in need of access to safe, clean water (UNICEF, 2016).
Internally displaced family in Khamer, taken in May 2015 (Malak Shaher/MSF)
‘It’s become one of the worst places to be a child in the world, the conflict in Yemen has gone from bad to worse” (David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada)
Child rights violations have increased dramatically and children are facing significant psychological stress. Some 3 million children under 5 years and pregnant women require services to treat severe malnutrition. An estimated 1.8 million children are out of school due to fighting and insecurity. The statistics show that 1 in 20 children dies before the age of 5 (Madhok, 2016).
Child recruitment has exponentially increased in the past year. The UN documented 848 cases of child recruitment and reports show that warring parties had children as young as 10 years old in the fighting (UNICEF, 2015). Most of the killing of children happened in the governorates of Taiz, Sana’a, Sa’ada, Aden and Hajjah where the violence and fighting have been the heaviest. Children represent around one third of all civilian deaths since March 2015 (RT, 2016).
Although Yemen’s population is the same as Syria, the Yemen crisis currently receives four times less funds than Syria’s, although with the increasing targeting of ISIS, Yemen might become the “New Syria”, en face en unprecedented refugee crisis (UNICEF, 2016). The Yemen Civil War, despite the violent deaths of thousands of civilians, and the worsening struggle of millions of innocent Yemenis, remains almost invisible in the international media (ACAPS, 2016).
Child recruits in the Houthi fighters, holingd weapons as they ride on the back of a patrol truck during a demonstration to show support to the movement, and rejecting foreign interference in Yemen’s internal affairs, in Sana’a March 13, 2015. (Mohamed Al-Sayaghi / Reuters)
UNICEF’s Aim for next year: To reach 5.2 out of 9 million children in need of humanitarian assistance in of Yemen.
UNICEF’s strategy is focusing on delivering life-saving services and supplies for children at risk and their families, including interventions in health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), education and protection. UNICEF is partnering with local governments to improve their capacities to respond to the ongoing crisis. UNICEF is also acting on the restoration of lost service provision capacity, which has left rural water supply systems non-functional, as well as testing of renewable technologies to replace fuel shortages.
Given the limited access to crumbling health services, UNICEF is establishing preparedness measures to respond to possible spread of childhood diseases. Treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is also one of the main focus.
UNICEF is trying to improve access to education enrolment in secure learning environments, and is providing education supplies and teacher training (UNICEF, 2016).
“Children are paying the highest price for a conflict not of their making. They have been killed or maimed across the country and are no longer safe anywhere in Yemen. » (Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s Representative in Yemen).
A boy in the Muharmasheen minority community holds his younger brother in their makeshift shelter in Sana’a (Shamsan/UNICEF/Yemen2015)
Since March 2015, the situation in Yemen has become dramatic, impacting the lives of millions of civilians, keeping children from having proper access to education, health services, food, and putting them at high mortality risks. The unrelenting war is pushing children and women into the worst crisis the country has ever experienced, which is why the focus of McGill Students for UNICEF for the upcoming year is the Yemen crisis.
“Yemen.” UNICEF – Humanitarian Action for Children -. UNICEF, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. Available from : http://www.unicef.org/appeals/yemen.html
Bonnefoy, Laurent. “Les Déchirures Du Yémen.” Le Monde Diplomatique. N.p., 01 June 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. Available from : https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/mav/147/BONNEFOY/55659
Madhok, Rajat. “Children on the Brink.” #childrenofyemen (n.d.): n. pag. 29 Mar. 2016. Web. Available from : http://www.unicef.org/media/files/Yemen_FINAL.PDF
Reuters “Yemen’s Starving Children ‘heart-breaking’: UN Urges End to Conflict amid Saudi Strikes.” RT International. N.p., 5 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. Available from : https://www.rt.com/news/361660-yemen-children-starving-un/
Cole, Juan. “Yemen, the World’s Next Great Refugee Crisis.” The Nation. N.p., 09 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 Oct.2016 Available from : https://www.thenation.com/article/yemen-the-worlds-next-great-refugee-crisis/
Humans Right Watch. “Yémen.” Human Rights Watch. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. Available from : https://www.hrw.org/fr/middle-east/n-africa/yemen
Al-Omeisy, Hisham. “The Media’s Role in Yemen’s 500 Days of War.” ACAPS. N.p., 9 Aug. 2016. Web. Available from : https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/key-documents/files/hisham_al_omeisy.pdf