The year-old conflict in Yemen is taking a horrifying toll on the country’s youth, UNICEF said on Tuesday, warning that an estimated 320,000 children face life-threatening malnutrition.
In a new report marking the anniversary of the start of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, the agency said six children have been killed or injured daily over the past year – up nearly seven times compared with 2014.
“Children are paying the highest price for a conflict not of their making. They have been killed or maimed across the country and are no longer safe anywhere in Yemen. Even playing or sleeping has become dangerous,” said Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen.
The intervention of the Arab coalition assembled by Saudi Arabia in support of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi began on March 26 last year, but has yet to deal a decisive blow to Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their allies, who still control the capital Sanaa and key parts of the country.
Hopes for a breakthrough in the conflict emerged last week when the warring sides agreed to a cessation of hostilities from April 10 and peace talks from April 18, after a year of war that has killed overall more than 6,200 people.
The UNICEF report, entitled “Childhood on the Brink”, said nearly a third of the more than 3,000 civilians killed in Yemen’s war have been children.
“Everything around me is frightening. My mother’s sad face and tears are what torture me the most,” 13-year-old Abdullah Nawar, who is trapped with his family in Aden, was quoted as saying in the report.
“I am scared that all of us will die in this dark basement,” he added.
But beyond the direct effect of the conflict, UNICEF said that nearly 10,000 children under five may have died in the past year from preventable diseases, as a result of the decline in access to vaccines and other key health services.
Basic services and infrastructure are “on the verge of total collapse”, the report added, noting that 63 health facilities have been attacked or damaged.
The UN estimates 82 percent of the population is now in desperate need of humanitarian aid, with nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces on the verge of famine.
UNICEF also said it had documented 848 cases of children being recruited by different sides in the conflict, with reports indicating children as young as 10 were forced to take part in the fighting.
“Tragic as it is, these statistics are only the tip of the iceberg,” the report said, adding that the actual numbers were likely to be “much higher”.