By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Since March 2015, a bloody conflict has been going on in Yemen, which has led to the deaths of thousands, caused devastating damage to property and social infrastructure, and has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times.
As the hostilities drag into their sixth year, Save the Children highlights the massive human cost of the war, especially as it concerns children. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the organization said over 2,300 children were killed in the last three years alone – a number that represents a quarter of all civilian victims.
Save the Children also notes that 1.8 million children under 5 years of age are suffering from malnutrition, 2 million children are out of school and over 11 million children in all are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Children: victims of Yemen's war
In the statement, the charity organization highlights that the six-year war is becoming increasingly dangerous for children. According to data gathered, while minors accounted for 1 in 5 civilian casualties in 2018, the ratio rose to 1 in 4 in 2019 and 2020. Save the Children said that in the past three years, 2,341 confirmed casualties of the war (22.85% of the total) were minors, however, the group notes that the actual toll is likely to be much higher.
Furthermore, 2 out of every 3 people in Yemen are in urgent need of assistance to survive and children continue to die from malnutrition, easily preventable diseases, as well as from bomb explosions. Presently, 400,000 children are suffering from severe forms of malnutrition.
This grim scenario is further exacerbated by famine, cuts in aid, long-standing restrictions on humanitarian access, the collapse of the country’s frail economy and attacks on civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
Yemen's conflicts finds its roots in the failure of a political transition that was supposed to bring stability to the country following the Arab Spring uprising that forced long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in 2011. Dissatisfied with the transition, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels gradually took control of the capital, Sanaa between late 2014 and early 2015. Since then, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of other states began a campaign aimed at defeating the rebels and ending Iranian influence in Yemen.
“Yemeni children have been living through a horrific and endless nightmare for six years now. Children continue to be killed and injured on a near-daily basis,” said the organization's country director, Xavier Joubert.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia offered Yemen’s Houthi rebels a nationwide cease-fire as part of proposals aimed at ending the six-year war and to allow for the reopening of a major airport in the Yemen’s capital.
Under the Saudi initiative, the Sana’a International Airport will reopen to a number of regional and international flights. Also, Saudi Arabia said that it was willing to allow ships enter the Hodeidah port which had been blocked by Saudi forces. The latest proposal also envisions that the income from the port would go into an account that would be jointly administered by the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government.
“All parties to the conflict must fully implement a cease-fire as soon as possible," said Joubert. “The cease-fire should be used to work towards a sustainable peace and a political solution to this war — it’s the only way to truly end this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Appeal for support from the international community
At this time when Yemen needs the support of the international community, funding levels barely provide for half of what is needed. In fact, funds for the treatment of children affected in the violence dropped by more than forty percent compared to last year.
Despite efforts by the international community to bring the warring parties to peaceful negotiations, the clashes have continued with devastating consequences for civilians, especially children. Save the Children notes that the health system in on the verge of collapse with more than half of the health facilities closed or only partially functioning. Many hospitals have been damaged in air strikes or during ground combat and there is constant shortage of medicines and qualified medical personnel.
“Without urgent action, the humanitarian situation in Yemen, which is already the worst in the world, is destined to deteriorate further with the very real risk of an aggravation of famine, an increase in civilian casualties and a total collapse of basic services for the population. We are facing a tragedy caused in all respects by man, a conflict that has been going on for six years in total contempt for human life and the safety of the population,” said Daniela Fatarella, Director-General of Save the Children Italy.
“According to recent United Nations estimates, the worst famine in decades could kill hundreds of thousands of children,” Fatarella added. “We must act immediately to prevent all this from happening.”
Save the Children at the service of the vulnerable
Currently, Save the Children is working in Yemen to reach the most vulnerable across the country through interventions to provide them with food, health care, protection from violence and education. So far, the charity organization has provided support for 4 million children thanks to the tireless efforts of its field workers.