Not many people would leave Australia and fly across the world to work with children suffering in the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

For UNICEF Yemen Chief of Child Protection, Julie Gill, the decision to leave her home in Melbourne for a country where more than 11 million children are in need of help was simple.

"What could be more important than the protection of children in a conflict?" she says. 
Aerial attacks and street fighting took hold of most of Yemen in 2015 and put millions of civilians, especially children, in danger. 

Almost four years on, nearly all of the country's population has been affected by the war. They face dire food shortages, disease, displacement and an acute lack of access to basic services, according to Julie. 

The war has pushed millions to the brink of famine. At the main hospital in Sana'a, Yemen's largest city, parents are bringing in their sons and daughters who are just skin and bones.
© UNICEF/UN0252086/Abdulbaki
"We have a huge population of children who are severely and acutely malnourished," Julie says.

An estimated 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished - including nearly 400,000 children under five who are fighting for their lives and suffering severe acute malnutrition. The deepening economic crisis and escalating violence could make almost 2 million more children food insecure.

With UNICEF's help, 230,000 children with severe acute malnutrition have been admitted for therapeutic care.

"In Yemen, there are different challenges every day," she says. Since the start of the conflict in 2015, more than 6,500 children have been confirmed killed or injured in the fighting.

Over 2,700 have been recruited as child soldiers by armed forces and other groups. Child marriage has increased, with two thirds of girls under 18 marrying in 2017 compared to 52 per cent a year earlier. 

"This is an unacceptable burden on children and their families. We don't want children to be statistics," Julie says.
 
"These are actual lives that have been
affected - not only the children killed
and injured but also their families,
extended families and communities."
While each day presents a new challenge for the team in Yemen, Julie says August was a particularly sad month. At least 87 children were verified killed and 129 injured in just four weeks, including 39 boys who were killed when an airstrike hit their bus returning to school from a summer camp.

"Children are killed and injured almost every day; from stepping on mines, tampering with unexploded ordnances, from the impact of airstrikes, being trapped in crossfire or from being directly engaged in the conflict," Julie says.

Since the August attacks, the dire situation in Yemen has become much, much worse. Fighting has intensified in areas of Al Hudaydah, putting pressure on the city and its port. Today, almost every single child in Yemen depends on humanitarian assistance to survive. 

Basic services are barely functioning in the country. There is limited access to schools and only a third of the country's population is connected to water, Julie says. 
 
Julie is based in Melbourne but has been working in Yemen for a year. She and her team are working to prevent and respond to the worse forms of violence, exploitations and abuse against children.

The child protection program in Yemen focuses on children who are particularly vulnerable with psychosocial support, mine risk education, and access to critical services. For example, victim's assistance where UNICEF provides prosthetic limbs to children who have lost their own limbs in landmine explosions, and support for children and their families to adapt to the new disability.
©UNICEF/Yemen/Ahmed Abdulhaleem
Julie has worked in some of the most stressful, conflict-affected places in the world including in Gaza, Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other affected countries in the Eastern African region. But, she says Yemen is a complex and protracted emergency, with deep impacts on children, their families and communities. 

"People's coping mechanisms are brought to the absolute brink and after more than three years of conflict, people are getting tired and not seeing a way out," Julie says.   
 
"It is an insecure environment and anything
can happen at any time so there is
always a degree of risk working in these
situations. But if you focus on that, you
wouldn't get out of bed in the morning."
Julie Gill is tasked with the overwhelming job of protecting Yemen's children. ©UNICEF/Yemen

Help Children in Yemen


Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Today, more than 11 million children - nearly half the entire population of Australia - are in dire need of food, medical treatment, education, water and sanitation.

UNICEF is one of the few international aid agencies working in Yemen to get these millions of children and their families the humanitarian support they so urgently require. Every day our teams on the ground are delivering the essentials like medicine, food, clean water to thousands of Yemeni children.

But we still have so much more to do, and we need your help.

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