In war-torn Yemen, 85,000 children may have died from starvation since start of crisis. 13 million people face starvation – many of them children. Save the Children is on the ground, working to help the most vulnerable survive and stay safe.
Yemen is a perfect storm of humanitarian, protection and economic crises, with each fueling the other. March 26 marks four years since the conflict in the country escalated. In that time, Yemeni families have witnessed the horror of more than 19,000 airstrikes and continuous ground fighting.
Over the last year, 37 Yemeni children have been killed or injured by foreign bombs each month. Twenty four million people, including 12.3 million children, need humanitarian assistance – without this, their prospects of survival dwindle every day.
On the four-year mark of the escalation of the conflict, here are four facts you need to know.
85,000 children under the age of five may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war started in 2015. Children who die from Severe Acute Malnutrition suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop. Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry.
2 million children are currently missing out on an education, and 1,800 schools are unfit for use. Save the Children is working hard to keep children in school or giving them access to safe places to play and escape the trauma they are experiencing.
An estimated 2 million children do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. In some parts of the country, the water supply is only turned on for an hour a day and 46% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water.
2 million children are without adequate access to healthcare. More than half of all health facilities have closed or are only partially functional. There are no doctors available in 18% t of the districts in Yemen.
Save the Children calls on all parties to Yemen’s conflict to support the ongoing peace process, to take urgent steps to protect civilians, to work toward stabilizing the economy and to allow complete and unconditional access for humanitarian and commercial goods into Yemen.
To learn more about Save the Children’s work in Yemen and how you can help, visit our website.
My husband used to have a good job, but he lost it when the economy crashed. He has a degree. He speaks English well, but right now he goes out every day trying to find a job that pays. It has been more than two years since public servants, public school teachers and doctors have been paid.
My brother is a dentist, but now he teaches Biology at a high school. We are just glad he found a job at a private school that gives salaries to teachers. My cousin used to have an excellent job as a Finance Officer. The company had to shut down when the war started. Now it has been four years and he is desperate to find any kind of job to look after his wife and two daughters. I worry about him – his face has gone pale and he is just exhausted, worrying every day about how to feed his girls.
People like me, who are lucky enough to still have a job, support their whole extended family. I support my parents, my brother’s family, my grandmother, and my cousin’s family. Although the support I provide them is very basic and is barely enough, it is better than nothing. Everything in the shops is so expensive. I used to buy diapers without thinking about it. Not now. They are a luxury item. Many families use plastic bags or cloths in children’s underwear for their newborn babies, because they cannot afford the price of diapers.
Transport, hospital, schools, nurseries – everything is breaking down.
A few months ago, we had the chance to leave Yemen. My husband traveled to Malaysia and found a great job. I was planning on joining him. But in the end, I asked him to come back. I’m sure you’re wondering, ‘Why?’
Everyone keeps abandoning Yemen. I can’t. I am the provider for my entire family. I can’t abandon them. I can’t abandon my country. I figured that it will be mentally exhausting for me and I will find no joy living elsewhere, knowing that my country and my family and friends are struggling to survive.
That is why I am still here.
What hurts the most is the feeling that we have been neglected by the outside world. I am grateful to Save the Children and their supporters for not forgetting us. Seeing the work we do in Yemen is a great relief for me.
It was midnight when my contractions started. We had to go to three different hospitals before we found one where they had electricity. There were airstrikes all around – it was so scary. In the end, I needed a C-section and I asked to have a general anesthetic because I didn’t want to hear the sound of bombs when my son was born.
So war has been part of his life, right from the start. I feel like it has stolen his childhood away. He is three years old! He wants to go out and explore, but we have to keep him indoors where it is safer. He can’t play with water outdoors because he could get cholera. Or play football in the street because it is too dangerous.
This isn’t what I want for him.
Before the war, we used to have big family gatherings. I loved them. Everyone would eat together. The kids would play – it was such a happy time. Now, all we talk about is the war.
We are exhausted. We are tired of crying. We are tired of war. All we want is to have a safe life where our children could live an ordinary life.
It is morning, but as I write this blog post, I am already thinking about what will happen tonight. Will there be airstrikes? It was quiet for the past couple of months, but lately airstrikes have resumed.
I remember how excited we were when we moved into this apartment – me, my husband and my son. It’s on the ninth floor! Which means that we have to take the stairs every now and then because electricity is not always available. My apartment views over Sana’a (that’s the capital of Yemen) are amazing, but then the airstrikes started again on the night we moved in. There were four airstrikes that targeted the same neighborhood where my mom and my handicapped grandmother lived. I called my mom and I asked her to stay away from the windows and to be careful. I couldn’t sleep and I was worried about her, until she texted me three hours later saying everything was OK.
Now, whenever the airstrikes happen, I lie with my little boy – he is three years old – and his one-eyed cuddly sheep and we cuddle until it is over. We stay where we are because this building has no shelter. Even if we ran down the stairs – nine floors, remember – there would be nowhere to go.
Sometimes, we put on headphones and play loud music to drown out the noise. At other times, we just listen to the sounds of the planes overhead. My little boy is so funny. He actually loves planes and carries a small orange airplane everywhere he goes. Every time an aircraft hover over, he gets all excited and jumps up and down. He says, “Whoah, let’s go see the airplane!” but I pull him away from the windows, because we don’t have any functioning airports here, so I know airplanes mean one thing: bombs. When I hear them approach, I think, “This might be the end”.
So be happy is what I try to do. Even though my country is at war, bombs are falling, and people are going hungry, I try to smile and be happy for my son.
Think of us tonight when you go to sleep – without the sound of airstrikes or the fear a bomb will wipe you out.
Civilians fleeing violence face life-threatening risks the moment they embark on their journeys. The most immediate dangers are death or injury due to explosive weapons, which have been used indiscriminately by all parties to the conflict with little regard for their legal obligation to protect civilians in conflict.
If displaced families manage to survive their dangerous journeys and avoid airstrikes and shelling to reach relative safety, they face further difficulties in strained host communities or in camps lacking in adequate food supplies and basic sanitation and hygiene. This puts young children at risk of malnutrition and disease in a country where the health system has all but collapsed and some 14 million people are on the brink of starvation. Save the Children estimates 85,000 children have already died from extreme hunger and disease since 2015.
The situation for Yemen’s children is nothing short of dire. Some 11.3 million children in Yemen are facing a triple threat of bombs, hunger and disease.
The journey for those trying to flee, however, is often no safer: families have to brave minefields and airstrikes and are forced to cross areas of active fighting, all in a bid to escape the embattled governorate. There have been 18,000 airstrikes since March 2018, killing 2,398 children and injuring countless more.1 Civilian casualties in the most impacted districts more than doubled in the start of July as the fighting moved to more populated areas, according to the UN’s Refugee Agency.
Children’s injuries incurred as a result of airstrikes are often complex and require a specialist treatment. Families on the run need to sometimes make the impossible decision of whether to continue to flee towards safety or stop and seek out medical care, if they can afford it.
Eight-year-old Razan* was severely wounded in one eye after a bomb exploded nearby as she and her father tried to leave. She was in agony for days and her family feared she was permanently blinded.
“When Razan was injured, the airstrike was just yards away from us. The airstrike hit an armored vehicle nearby and flying shrapnel hit Razan in the eye. I tried to get us to a safe place to have a look at her eye, and then I bandaged her up with my shawl. Then we had to carry on moving,” said Samir,* Razan’s father.
“Razan had to go five days without treatment because I didn’t have enough money. After five days I asked Razan whether she could still see through her injured eye. She lied and said yes. We went upstairs, and I asked her to count the birds outside, while I covered her good eye. She said there were two, but there were four.”
Razan eventually reached a specialist hospital, where Save the Children referred her for emergency surgery that should restore her eyesight.
Thanks to support from Save the Children’s donors, Razan received the special medical care she needed. But there are many more children like her who are not getting the care they need.
*Names changed for protection
To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to help children in Yemen, visit our website.
Today, some of the biggest challenges for children and families are those caught in the crossfire of conflict. The children of Yemen face unrelenting hunger and suffering. Every day, our dedicated humanitarian aid workers are there to help them survive, and thrive, despite the dire situation. Jeremy Stoner, Regional Operations and Humanitarian Response Director at Save the Children Middle East and Eastern Europe Regional Office is one such humanitarian. Here is his story.
Written by Jeremy Stoner
Sana’a to Haddjah… I left Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, on Wednesday morning accompanied by the Director of Safety and Security. Together, we headed
for Haddjah Governorate in the north of Yemen which shares a border with Saudi Arabia. Having stopped by in Arum, where Save the Children also has a field office, to briefly the meet the staff, we climbed, seemingly incessantly, through breathtaking scenery and arrived at Haddjah City. The beauty of the area is marked by cascading terraced agriculture recently planted to catch the first of the rains rendering the mountains with a fresh green hue.
A Country at War It is easy to be seduced by so much natural beauty but there are always reminders that Yemen is a country at war – a war which has been so devastating to 22 million people – the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. There are regular reminders of the war in Yemen at different points in the journey. While our minds are focused very much on Hodeida, where a fresh wave of violence has seen bombing escalate and deadly clashes erupt, they are also with the millions of children directly and indirectly affected by the volatile civil war, now in its fourth year.
Even a simple journey requires elaborate planning to ensure it is as safe as possible. Somewhere in Yemen and on a daily basis, we can’t actually access some of the neediest children simply because we aren’t granted permission. There are so many complications to delivering for children in Yemen but, despite that, we continue to be on the ground, working to help the most vulnerable survive and stay safe.
Arriving In Haddjah and Meeting the Team
The town of Haddjah is dispersed over a number of mountains and hillsides and has incredible views over the dramatic countryside. Save the Children opened an office here in January 2017 but had been supporting the area from other offices prior to that. The Field Manager for our Haddjah office showed good leadership during our visit and clearly manages strong relationships internally with the team and externally with local authorities. His enthusiasm and passion for the work is clear. The other members of the team also demonstrated similar levels of commitment and enthusiasm which was a great foundation for our visit to see our water, sanitation and health work in Baniqais District.
Before departing, we shared breakfast with the Director General of the National Authority for Management Work. He oversees the humanitarian efforts in Haddjah and he is clear about the issues and the needs in both Haddjah and its surrounding districts. He spoke very highly, not just of the work that we are doing on the ground, but also of the excellent relationship that the authorities and Save the Children have built.
We left the city on Thursday morning and headed down through the mountains to Baniqais District, an area considered to be the poorest within Haddjah. From the relative cool of the mountains the contrast in the valleys way below couldn’t be stronger. A searing heat greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicle to have a look at the central water tank that Save the Children has put in to serve the Health Centre and nearby houses in the local community (funded by UN OCHA). It is a serious-looking tank fed by a network of eleven wells, also supported by Save the Children. The quality of construction of these wells and the central tank itself looks good with each having a solar pump attached to feed water to the central tank near the Health Centre.
Later we visited the Health Centre itself to see more of the rehabilitation work that we have been supporting there (also UN OCHA funded). We have added a small laboratory and clinic on site for malaria which might be unusual for a Health Centre. However, the plans are to convert this Health Centre into a District Hospital to serve this desperately poor and under-resourced district. We will be able to achieve this dream with a second round of funding from OCHA which we expect shortly. Under this phase of funding, we also intend to extend our water, sanitation and health (WASH) work to cover more of the District’s water needs. This will hugely relieve the burden on women and especially girls who can be seen carrying water for 5 or 6 KMs from the nearest well to their homes. Water carrying can be the single most important contributing factor to girls dropping out of school early which is barely thinkable.
The water system was working perfectly during my visit with plenty of fresh water available throughout the clinic! We visited on a Thursday, which is the weekend in Yemen, and so the Health Centre was technically closed. However, they do operate a 24-hour service for health emergencies.
Thank goodness for this, as I saw a boy who must have been about 4 years old brought to the clinic with severe diarrhea by his brother who himself was only 10 or 11 years old. The staff examined the boy for acute diarrhea as well as cholera. They would have to send a sample to Sana’a to confirm the boy’s condition, as they don’t currently have the equipment to diagnose cholera. They do, however, have the basic equipment to test for malaria.
One of the doctors showed me the log of cases that he keeps explaining that the peak months for malaria in this region are January thru March. In March of this year alone, 1,200 malaria cases were dealt with by the Health Centre. Now, the number of cases is down to around 150 or so.
I met the pharmacist of the Health Centre who, for the time being, had a good supply of basic drugs including antibiotics and ant-malarial drugs. Just these two types of drugs save children’s lives and it feels good to know that Save the Children is supporting health centers like this across Yemen. The Centre also has a dedicated nutrition section where mothers get advice on the best food for their children, based on what is available locally, and malnourished children can get support. In this district alone, food baskets are given to 1,200 families every month with special food for children to build them back to their ideal weight.
The Health Centre management team were present and provided us with a thorough tour of the facilities. Again, people were delighted with the support that the team have been providing and enthusiastic that the Centre can become a District Hospital to serve the most deprived people in the Governorate.
Haddjahh Hospital and Pediatric Unit
We returned from the district to Haddjah City where our first stop was the hospital. It is the Authority of Al-Gamhori Hospital or the main hospital in Haddjahh. Here, Save the Children has installed an impressive solar power system on the hospital’s roof. A truly huge array of panels that provide electricity to the hospital – light and fans so that they can deliver essential tertiary services to the Governorate population (about 2.2 million). Close by to the hospital, we have renovated a large building which will become the pediatric unit for children at Governorate level. This will provide children’s health care at the Governorate level from nutrition, to curing childhood killer diseases and nutrition support to mothers and their children – can’t wait to hear about its progress once it is up and running!
Delivering in Conflict Reflecting on Save the Children’s amazing 614 staff and numerous volunteers in the Yemen Program, it is clear that they are working under incredibly difficult circumstances but able to serve some of the neediest children in the world. Many staff remain in Haddjah during the week, only returning to their families on the weekends.
As the Program gears up to our highest level of humanitarian response, I was left with a strong sense of hope. This is built on the excellent staff that I met both national and international combined with some really powerful work on the ground for vulnerable children and communities – excellent! The incredible thing is that, despite the war and the suffering in such a massive and complex crisis, we are absolutely delivering what is needed and are looking to do even more!
Undernourished children in Yemen’s district of Hodeidah are far more likely to contract cholera should the disease spread quickly in the hot summer months. A new alert from Save the Children reports conditions are ideal for cholera to spread rapidly, with almost 3,000 suspected cases reported in the first week of July across the country – the highest number seen since the start of the year.
In Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, an estimated 2.9 million children and pregnant and lactating woman are acutely malnourished.1 Undernourished children are far more likely to contract cholera, as the disease causes violent vomiting and diarrhea. The disease is especially deadly for children under five years and those whose immune systems have been badly compromised by malnutrition.
Families in Yemen have already been through so much as war wages on for a fourth year. Children like Lina* are especially susceptible to the deadly effects of cholera.
At 8-months old, Lina* is already receiving treatment for malnutrition. Her parents brought Lina* to a Save the Children-supported health facility in Amran so a health worker could administer emergency treatment, including therapeutic food and medicine. “We are from a remote village,” Lina’s* mother explained. “We barely have anything. Lina* is in a weak state. We buy food as much as we can afford. I give them bread to manage their hunger. What can I do?”
Lina’s* family has been displaced for at least six years. Her parents have already lost two children to illness.
Save the Children is on the ground, working to provide children caught in the crossfire with access to food, health care, education and protection. We need your generous gift to support our efforts. Our relief in Hodeidah now includes treating children for life threatening conditions such as malaria and diarrhea. We’ve rehabilitated health centers and hospitals and provided equipment, medicines, and support to help keep the health system functioning.