Save the Children has worked in the Greater Middle East and Eurasia for many decades now, providing protection and saving innocent lives when violence erupts. With the help of supporters like you, we respond to local crises and provide lifesaving health care and nutrition to children in impoverished nations. Working in the poorest and most vulnerable communities throughout the region, your support helps us reach the children who would otherwise be forgotten.
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!
A dusty police station in northern Iraq is a strange sort of paradise.
But that is what it is to the eight families crammed in here on the hard, tiled floor. Babies are crying and young children are sleeping where they collapsed from exhaustion.
They have walked over 60 miles, and scaled a mountain last night, to escape territory held by the Islamic State group.
Many did it barefoot, including a five-year-old. But they survived. “I have come from jail to paradise,” one mother says to me, surrounded by her five children. “I am finally home.”
Shot at as they flee
These parents tell me that they are lucky. They show me graphic images of families who did not make it on their cell phones.
Pictures of children who dodged IS snipers and checkpoints, only to step on land mines sown into fields and mountain paths. Others collapsed and died on the journey after running out of water.
One woman says she paid thousands of dollars to smugglers — only to be pointed in the vague direction of freedom and then abandoned with her family to stumble down deadly routes in the dark.
I hear stories like these every day.
Families are growing increasingly desperate to flee with their children before the final assault. And they’re ready to risk capture and execution by IS fighters.
“I tried escaping on four separate occasions,” one woman says. “But each time I was caught and sent back, and my husband was brutally beaten.”
An exodus of one million
We have already seen at least 150,000 people flee their homes in recent weeks, and more are on the move every day.
When the final push for Mosul comes, the U.N. and aid agencies like us on the ground are expecting an exodus of a million, maybe more.
What we’re witnessing now in areas recently captured from IS by the Iraqi army, suggests they will need everything — water, food, shelter and psychological first aid.
“We have nothing but our clothes!” one man shouted out to us when we arrived with help.
The only memories some young children have is of a long and brutal two years of IS rule. Families told us they had resorted to desperate tactics to feed themselves under IS rule, some even cooking grass to eat.
600,000 trapped children
Every family I meet has their own harrowing tale.
As the offensive fast approaches, Save the Children is gearing up our response plan to cope with the incredible level of need we expect will flood out from the city. By our estimates there are 600,000 children trapped inside right now.
Within 12-72 hours from the call to deploy, we aim to get emergency supplies to those that need them.
And we aim to provide proper care for children traveling alone, reuniting them with their families where we can.
But across the board there is a shortage of funding. The UN has raised less than half of the money it needs for what is likely to be the biggest humanitarian crisis for many years. We need more help.
In the violence of this assault, children must be kept safe while they are fleeing — and protected if they make it out alive.
Mike McCusker is Save the Children’s Field Manager in Baghdad
As Iraqi and coalition forces begin their assault on Mosul, the lives of more than half a million children are hanging in the balance. The escalation in the conflict is forcing families to make an impossible choice. Stay in their homes and risk being killed in the conflict, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid without food and medical care, or flee into the heart of the fighting on unsecured roads, facing an uncertain future.
Families inside Mosul say they cannot afford to buy food, water and basic medical supplies, and have been preparing shelters inside their homes in case of bombardment. Many say they are too scared to leave the city until the roads out are secured.
Military commanders have asked vulnerable families to stay inside and put white flags on their homes. At best this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields.
Those who attempt to flee the city face booby traps, snipers, and hidden land mines. It’s impossible to fathom, but many families are currently seeking refuge in war-torn Syria, with about 5,000 people, mostly women and children, arriving at the Al Hol Camp from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, and at least 1,000 more are now massing at the border waiting to cross.
If people do manage to escape, they also face an uncertain situation. At the moment camps are ready for only around 60,000 people — a tiny fraction of the up to 1 million people who could flee Mosul. The UN’s emergency appeal is still only half funded, but camps could be overwhelmed within days.
Save the Children is calling for safe routes out of the city to be immediately identified and maintained, and cleared of deadly explosives. The safety of children must be made a priority.
Our teams are already seeing people making dangerous journeys to get out ahead of the offensive. Thousands of families are escaping the area around Hawija and at least 5,000 people have fled villages around Mosul and crossed into northeast Syria in the past week, and are living in desperate conditions across the border.