“Peace is the only way forward”
Statement by Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, at Geneva press briefing following 4-day visit to Yemen
As prepared for delivery
GENEVA/NEW YORK/AMMAN/SANAA, 3 July 2018 – “The relentless conflict in Yemen has pushed a country already on the brink deep into the abyss. Social services are barely functional. The economy is in ruins. Prices have soared. Hospitals have been damaged. Schools have turned into shelters or have been taken over by armed groups.
“I have just come from Aden and Sanaa and I saw what three years of intense war after decades of underdevelopment and chronic global indifference can do to children: Taken out of school, forced to fight, married off, hungry, dying from preventable diseases. Today, 11 million children in Yemen – more than the entire population of Switzerland – need help getting food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.
“Since 2015, more than half of health facilities have stopped working, and 1,500 schools have been damaged due to airstrikes and shelling. At least 2,200 children have been killed and 3,400 injured. These are only numbers we have been able to verify. The actual figures could be even higher.
“There is no justification for this carnage.
“In Aden, at a centre offering psychosocial support to children who fled the violence in Hodeida, a young girl gave me a drawing of the world that she would like to live in. It showed a well-dressed girl sitting in a park with her friend on a sunny day, right next to a big house. It was the opposite of the world surrounding her, one of displacement, destruction and fear.
“In Sanaa, at a ward for malnourished children, I saw an eight-month old child with the weight of a newborn baby. At a neonatal intensive care unit, I saw tiny babies in incubators struggling to breathe. Among them lay a pair of conjoined twins who need surgery to survive – a surgery they cannot get in Yemen. The unit, at the city’s main hospital, does not have back up electricity and relies on fuel-powered generators during power cuts. But power outages are frequent and fuel is rare and pricey. I met committed, overstretched health staff who are doing their best to save lives, offering care and medicine at no cost to their patients. They may have helped curb the spread of the worst cholera outbreak in history, but they have not been paid in two years.
“And yet the conflict goes on.
“In Hodeida, 5,000 families have fled their homes in the past two weeks. UNICEF teams on the ground reported that shops, bakeries and restaurants in the city are largely closed, limiting the availability of supplies in the market. Supplies of basic commodities including wheat flour, vegetable oil and cooking gas are dwindling. The price of wheat and vegetable oil increased by 30 per cent and that of cooking gas by 50 per cent in the last week. Electricity is unavailable in most areas of the city and damage to the water supply pipes has caused severe water shortages.
“On Thursday, more than 50 tons of UNICEF medical items, including antibiotics, paracetamol and folic acid, reached Hodeida from Djibouti and will benefit 250,000 women and children. Prior to this shipment, and before the battle for Hodeida started, UNICEF placed enough supplies to help replenish health centres and provide 500,000 people, including pregnant women, babies and children, with basic health items.
“In Hodeida, as in the rest of the country, the need for peace has never been more urgent. Parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them should rally behind diplomatic efforts to prevent a further worsening of the situation across the country and to resume peace negotiations.
“It is also critical that families wishing to flee be allowed to do so safely and that civilian infrastructure – including schools, hospitals and water installations – are kept safe. In a crisis of this magnitude, humanitarian organizations should be able to send in their teams swiftly and without delay to help those in need.
“The protection of children – from landmines, recruitment, exploitation and attack – should remain paramount at all times.
“UNICEF remains on the ground, in Aden, Sanaa, Ibb, Hodeida and Saada with a team of more than 250 staff, most of them are Yemenis working hard to serve children while dealing with the daily challenges of life in a war zone. So far this year, working with our non-profit and government partners, we have been able to:
- Provide around 9 million people with cash assistance through a joint initiative with the World Bank Group aimed at increasing the purchasing power of vulnerable families.
- Provide 4.6 million people with safe water through the rehabilitation of public water systems.
- Treat nearly 80,000 children under the age of five from severe malnutrition.
- Offer primary health care to nearly half a million children.
“We are committed to doing all we can to help the children and young people of Yemen but there should be a political solution to the conflict. We all need to give peace a chance. It is the only way forward.”