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At a glance: Yemen

Displaced Yemeni children face nutrition, health and education challenges

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1732/Brekke
Displaced families await supplies at the entrance of the Al-Mazrak camp in Harad district, Hajja governorate, Yemen. About 175,000 people have fled conflict in neighbouring Sa’ada since 2004.

NEW YORK, USA, 7 December 2009 – In Yemen, where more than half of all children show signs of stunting – a consequence of chronic nutritional deprivation – UNICEF is working to address the serious nutrition problems facing many children displaced by ongoing conflict in the northern part of the country.

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Displaced Yemeni children also face potentially life-threatening health challenges, as well as lack of access to education, according to UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag, who recently returned from visiting displacement camps in the country.

Chronic undernutrition
Amidst Yemen’s chronic undernutrition crisis, Ms. Kaag added, more nutrition experts are needed to help expand treatment and intervention efforts. She noted, as well, that education must be maintained alongside life-saving nutrition and health interventions by UNICEF and its partners.

To that end, UNICEF is working with non-governmental organizations to expand educational spaces and opportunities for children living in temporary camps – and especially for girls.

Currently, Ms. Kaag said, classrooms are immensely overcrowded in displacement areas.

Girls' education in camps
At the same time, local customs maintain that female students should have female teachers, presenting a problem for girls' education in the camps. “It is very difficult to find female teachers who are willing to work in remote rural areas,” said Ms. Kaag.

Still, makeshift classrooms at a camp will be the setting for the first formal schooling some displaced children have ever known.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1732/Brekke
People collect water from one of 20 UNICEF-supplied tanks in Al-Mazrak displacement camp, which houses some 500 Yemeni families displaced by ongoing conflict.

“For many of the children I spoke to, it was their first exposure to learning, being in a class setting, learning the alphabet,” said Ms. Kaag. “So it’s a significant opportunity.”

Help for conflict-affected children
Besides providing support for formal learning, UNICEF hopes to expand extracurricular activities for children in and around the camps.

However, many people remain trapped in conflict areas in northern Yemen. The crisis is compounded by chronic poverty and lack of basic infrastructure in areas hosting displaced populations, leaving tens of thousands vulnerable to hunger and disease.

UNICEF is providing water filters, jerrycans and hygiene kits for the displaced, as well as establishing feeding centres, child-friendly zones and temporary learning centres.
About 175,000 people have been displaced in Yemen since the start of the crisis in 2004.




2 December 2009: UNICEF Middle East Regional Director Sigrid Kaag talks about her visit to camps for children and families displaced by conflict in Yemen.
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