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26 June 2020

Number of malnourished children could reach 2.4 million by end of year, a 20 per cent increase  

Millions of children in Yemen could be pushed to ‘the brink of starvation’ due to huge shortfalls in humanitarian aid funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic – according to a new UNICEF report marking more than five years since conflict escalated in the country. 

Yemen five years on: Children, conflict and COVID - 19 warns that as Yemen’s devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably. The report shows that: 

  • An additional 30,000 children could develop life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next six months, and the overall number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to a total of 2.4 million –almost half of all under-fives in the country and a rise of around 20 per cent;
  • An additional 6,600 children under the age of five could die from preventable causes by the end of the year – an increase of 28 per cent*;
  • The health system is teetering closer to collapse. After years of conflict, only half of health facilities are operational, with huge shortages in medicine, equipment and staff;
  • Poor access to water and sanitation is stoking the spread of COVID-19. Around 9.58 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene.
  • With schools closed, 7.8 million children are not able to access education. 
  • Widespread absence from class and a worsening economy could put children at greater risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage. The United Nations has recorded 3,467 children, some as young as ten years old, recruited and used by armed forces and groups over the last five years.  

“We cannot overstate the scale of this emergency as children, in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, battle for survival as COVID-19 takes hold,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative to Yemen. “If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die. The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children in a nation devastated by conflict, disease and economic collapse, simply do not matter.”  

The report warns that unless US$54.5 million is received for health and nutrition services by the end of August:  

  • 23,500 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at increased risk of dying;
  • Up to one million children will not receive vital micronutrient supplements and vitamin A, and 500,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers will miss out on essential nutrition support including counselling on infant and young child feeding, and folic acid and iron supplements;
  • Five million children under the age of five years will not be immunised against killer diseases;
  • 19 million people will lose access to healthcare, including one million pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their children; 

The report also highlights that crucial water and sanitation services for three million children and their communities will begin to shut down from the end of July, unless US$45 million is secured. This will further negatively impact the more than two million exceptionally vulnerable malnourished children, risking a disastrous decline in their nutrition status if aid supplies are interrupted.  

In total UNICEF is appealing for US$461 million for its humanitarian response in Yemen, with an additional US$53 million for its COVID-19 response alone.  So far, the COVID appeal is only ten per cent funded and the humanitarian appeal is only 39 per cent funded.  

UNICEF is working with the World Health Organization and the authorities across Yemen to get lifesaving aid to children in desperate need, including: 

  • Maintaining general health services and humanitarian programmes for children across the country – including providing safe water and sanitation, supporting education and keeping vulnerable children safe from harm;
  • Working to suppress COVID-19 transmission at community level by reaching more than 16 million people with key prevention messages through TV, radio and social media; 
  • Procuring, transporting and distributing supplies for the pandemic; 
  • Saving lives by training 30,000 health workers in infection prevention and control and distributing thousands of hygiene kits. 

“UNICEF is working around the clock in incredibly difficult situations to get aid to children in desperate need, but we only have a fraction of the funding required to do this,” said Nyanti. “Children in Yemen need lasting peace and stability in their country. Until that is achieved, we must do everything we can to save lives and protect childhoods.”