3 million Yemeni children born in war face uncertain future, UNICEF says

A child in the ICU awaits treatment in Althawrah Hospital, Sana’a, Yemen. More than 3 million children have been born in Yemen since violence ravaging the country escalated in 2015, according to a UNICEF report. Photo by: © UNICEF

NEW YORK — More than 3 million children have been born in Yemen since the conflict escalated nearly three years ago, and many of these toddlers are now on dangerous, unhealthy paths towards adulthood, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported Tuesday.

An average of five children have been killed or injured every day since Yemen’s civil war sparked in March 2015, according to the report, “Born into War.”

Yemen has deteriorated into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with about 22.2 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and 8 million on the brink of famine, according to U.N. estimates. The country has a population of just 27 million.

"An entire generation of children in Yemen is growing up knowing nothing but violence. Children in Yemen are suffering the devastating consequences of a war that is not of their making," said Meritxell Relano, the UNICEF representative in Yemen, according to a media release. "Malnutrition and disease are rampant as basic services collapse. Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of conflict for the rest of their lives."

The 10-page report documents how the ongoing conflict has altered the course of life for one young girl, Ruba Mastour, born 1,000 days ago. She stands as a symbol of “children’s suffering,” the organization says, as Yemen’s war continues unabated between the Houthi rebel movement, allied with Iran, and a Saudi-led coalition that backs Yemen’s exiled government.

Young children like Ruba are particularly vulnerable to the violence, displacement, disease, lack of quality food, and emotional trauma that have accompanied this ongoing conflict. And delivery of aid has been hampered both by violence and the Saudi-initiated, month-long closing of Yemen’s central Hudaydah port in November.

No clear path ahead for Yemen aid as 30-day lift of blockade expires

A temporary lifting of a blockade over Yemen's major port is set to expire on Jan. 19. This could further complicate the work of international aid agencies, and prove devastating for the 7 million people reliant on aid, the Norwegian Refugee Council says.

While the blockade was lifted temporarily, the 30-day ease period set by the Saudi-led coalition is set to expire this week, prompting 17 aid agencies, including CARE International and the Norwegian Refugee Council, to issue a joint call this week for the unconditional opening of the port.

About 11.3 million Yemeni kids — nearly every child in the country — require humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF, which has called Yemen one of the worst places in the world to be a child.  

The collapse of Yemen’s health system — only about 45 percent of health facilities are fully functional — has had an acute impact on children and infants. Children under the age of five account for more than a quarter of Yemen’s suspected cholera cases, which reached a record-setting 1 million confirmed cases at the end of 2017.

In the case of Ruba, she was born to a mother who, like 1.1 million other pregnant and lactating women in Yemen, was acutely malnourished. Her mother, Fawzia, fought the odds and had a safe delivery at home, but the baby was born underweight and frail.  

Ruba received medical care after she became acutely malnourished, but her family borrowed money from friends to cover the cost of her care and is now in debt, like 80 percent of other Yemeni families. She also has suffered from malaria and typhoid since.

The UNICEF report cautions that an early childhood scenario like this could set Ruba up for being pushed into child marriage. Approximately 72 percent of girls in Yemen are married before they turn 18.

UNICEF stresses that unconditional access to deliver assistance to all children in need is key, and that restrictions on imports of goods in Yemen need to be lifted. The group is appealing for $312 million to continue to respond to the needs of children in Yemen in 2018. The U.N.’s total appeal for Yemen remains funded at about 70 percent.

See more Devex coverage of the Yemen crisis.

About the author

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    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.