Millions of children in Yemen are at risk of starvation amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is tipping the war-torn nation into further devastation, the United Nations warned, appealing for nearly $500m in urgent humanitarian assistance.
In a new report on Friday, UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, said the number of malnourished children in the country could reach 2.4 million – a 20 percent increase – by the end of the year.
Another 6,600 children under the age of five could also die from preventable causes, as the pandemic has weakened the country’s struggling healthcare system and disrupted services.
“Countless childhoods have been lost in this five-year war and we fear we will lose many more as COVID-19 spreads,” Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative to Yemen, said in a statement.
“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,” she added.
“If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die.”
The UNICEF report said almost 9.58 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation or hygiene, putting them at a greater risk of infection, while 7.8 million do not have access to education amid the school closures.
‘Fall off the cliff’
Five years of war in Yemen have pitted the internationally recognised government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
The Middle East’s poorest nation has seen its economy decimated as a result, leaving millions unemployed and 80 percent of the country in need of humanitarian assistance. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.
Officially, Yemen’s internationally recognised government has declared more than 900 cases of COVID-19 and more than 250 deaths, but the true number is believed to be much higher.
At a closed UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned many more people will starve to death, succumb to COVID-19, die of cholera and watch their children die because they have not been immunised for killer diseases.
He added the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across Yemen and about 25 percent of the country’s confirmed cases have died – “five times the global average”.
At a June 2 virtual donor conference, mainly Arab and Western countries pledged $1.35bn for aid operations in Yemen, far less than the $2.4bn the UN had asked for, and the $3.6bn the UN received last year.