|© AFP/Getty Images/Fazaa|
|A displaced woman from Yemen’s northern Sa’ada province carries her child at a camp set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mazraq, located in Hajja region.|
NEW YORK, USA, 9 September 2009 – As the violent conflict in northern Yemen enters its second month, UNICEF has called on all parties to allow aid agencies immediate, unconditional access to civilians caught in the fighting.
The number of casualties from the fighting between government and rebel troops in Sa'ada – about 240 km north of the capital, Sana'a – is unknown, but observers believe it is high. Many people are likely still trapped in the conflict zone.
A sporadic five-year conflict in the area has flared up violently in the past month. An estimated 150,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting and are now living in camps or with host families.
“It is believed that children represent the majority of the displaced population,” said UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag. “Their access to basic services like safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, food and health care is extremely limited under these conditions. They need shelter. They need food. They need safe water to drink.”
On 4 September, 3.5 tonnes of medical and nutritional supplies left UNICEF’s main supply warehouse in Copenhagen for Yemen. The shipment includes ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of severe malnutrition, and oral rehydration salts to prevent diarrhoeal dehydration.
Other emergency supplies – including water filters, jerry cans, blankets and soap – have been distributed. UNICEF has appealed for more than $6 million in new funding as part of a broader UN effort to meet the needs of displaced families.
|© UNICEF Yemen/2009|
|Children wait while their mother fills a canister with safe water from a UNICEF-supplied tank at the Mazraq camp for people displaced by conflict in northern Yemen.|
UNICEF is also concerned about the estimated 55,000 displaced children of school age in Yemen. To accommodate them, the agency needs to establish learning spaces, provide learning materials and train teachers.
Obviously, the needs of the displaced will not be met if humanitarian aid cannot get through. All parties to the conflict have an obligation to protect children from disease and violence, and to keep them out of harm’s way.
“We have seen, time and again, in places such as Darfur and Gaza, that restricting humanitarian access has dire consequences for civilians, especially children,” Ms. Kaag said. “The children of Yemen need urgent assistance. We cannot fail them.”