CAIRO (AP) – Millions of children could be pushed to the brink of starvation as the coronavirus pandemic is engulfed in war-torn Yemen amid a “massive” fall in humanitarian funding, the UN warned. children’s agency Friday.
The grim forecast comes in a new UNICEF report, “Yemen Five Years Later: Children, Conflict and COVID-19.” It said the number of malnourished Yemeni children could reach 2.4 million by the end of the year, up 20% from the current figure.
“As Yemen’s devastated health system and infrastructure must deal with the coronavirus, the already appalling situation for children is likely to worsen significantly,” UNICEF warned.
The poor health care system in Yemen is not prepared to fight the corona virus pandemic after five years of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The war, which has largely stalled, has also caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
The conflict broke out in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognized government, which had forced the Houthis into exile when they overran the capital Sanaa and much of the north the previous year.
The situation in Yemen is expected to get worse as donor countries have recently cut aid. Yemen has officially registered more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, including 275 deaths. However, it is believed that the actual count is much higher as the test capacities are severely limited.
“If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF representative in Yemen. “The international community will send a message that children’s lives … just don’t matter.”
UNICEF also warned that unless $ 54.5 million is paid for health and nutritional assistance at the end of August, more than 23,000 children are at increased risk of death from acute malnutrition. It was also said that 5 million others under 5 years of age will not have access to vaccines against deadly diseases.
International aid organizations are concerned by the significant fall in humanitarian funding previously promised by donor countries. At a virtual pledge conference for Yemen hosted by the UN and Saudi Arabia on June 2, 31 donors pledged $ 1.35 billion for humanitarian aid – a billion dollars less than what aid organizations needed and half of what countries had in 2019 promised.
UNICEF was able to secure only 10% of the $ 461 million it called for to cover its humanitarian response to the Yemen crisis, and less than 40% of the $ 53 million it needs to impact COVID-19 on children to absorb, the report said.
“UNICEF works around the clock in incredibly difficult situations to get help to children in need, but we only have a fraction of the funding needed to do this,” said Nyanti.
The UNICEF report followed a warning from the UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, who told a closed UN Security Council that Yemen could fall off the cliff without significant financial support.
Lowcock added that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading across the poorest country in the Arab world, killing about 25% of confirmed cases – five times the world average.
Half of the health facilities in Yemen are not functioning and 18% of the 333 districts of the country have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed, leading to recurrent cholera outbreaks. About 9.6 million children have inadequate access to safe water, sanitation or hygiene, and two-thirds of the country’s approximately 30 million people depend on food aid.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.