Remarks on the situation in Yemen by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the 8840th meeting of the UN Security Council

As prepared

23 August 2021
Yemen. A child's arm is measured.

NEW YORK, 23 August 2021 - "More than six years ago, adults started a war in Yemen. They did so despite knowing the terrible toll that violent conflict exacts on children.

"The war in Yemen, now in its seventh year, has created the largest humanitarian crisis in the world – one made worse by the public health and socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Since I last spoke with you about Yemen two years ago in the Security Council Chamber, little has changed for the country’s civilian population. Each day, the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families. This year has seen growing displacement, with 1.6 million children now internally displaced because of the violence – particularly around Hudaydah and Marib.

"Basic services like healthcare, sanitation and education – all of which are vital for the humanitarian response – are incredibly fragile and on the brink of total collapse.

"Widespread lack of access to safe and sufficient water is of the utmost concern. Those who are internally displaced are particularly vulnerable to ongoing water cuts taking place across front lines.

"Meanwhile Yemen’s economy is in frighteningly poor condition. GDP has dropped by 40 per cent since 2015, causing jobs to disappear and family incomes to plummet. About one quarter of the population – including many doctors, teachers and sanitation workers – rely on civil servant salaries which are paid erratically if at all. There is food in Yemen, but those who cannot afford it are at risk of starvation.  

"Today in Yemen, almost 21 million people, including 11.3 million children, need humanitarian assistance to survive. 2.3 million children are acutely malnourished and nearly 400,000 children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at imminent risk of death. More than 10 million children and close to 5 million women cannot properly access health services.

"In Yemen, one child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, including malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases.

"Children’s education in Yemen has also been gravely impacted by the war. Two million children are out of school and one in six schools can no longer be used. Two-thirds of teachers – over 170,000 teachers in total – have not received a regular salary for more than four years because of the conflict and geopolitical divides. This puts around four million additional children at risk of disrupted education or dropping out as unpaid teachers quit teaching to find other ways of providing for their families.

"Children who do not finish their education are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. If out-of-school children or those who have dropped out recently are not properly supported, they may never return to school.

"These are the numbers. But the numbers do not really tell us what it is like to be a child growing up today in Yemen.

"Being a child in Yemen means watching your parents struggle to provide enough food for your family to eat, without which you could starve. It means that if you are fortunate enough to have a school to go to, you could be killed by a bullet, an explosion or by stepping on a mine walking along the road to get there. 

"Or perhaps you are one of the children recruited to join the fighting, used by a party in a non-combat role, or forced into marriage because your family is out of options.

"Being a child in Yemen means you have probably either experienced or witnessed horrific violence to which no child should ever be exposed. It means that if you do survive the war, you might carry the physical and emotional scars with you for the rest of your life, undermining your development and happiness as an adult.

"Fighting around your community means it may be impossible for you to get vaccinated against polio or measles. And if you do get sick, there may be no hospital or clinic for you to safely visit.

"Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares. 

"We are doing everything we can to help children get through this ordeal. Shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners, we are providing access to clean water and sanitation, along with health, nutrition, protection and education services.

"These efforts include delivering vaccines and supporting primary healthcare centres and hospitals to remain operational. We’re responding to COVID-19 and we’re providing emergency cash transfers to 1.5 million households every quarter — benefitting around 9 million people.

"Across the country, UNICEF is supporting the treatment of acute malnutrition in over 4,000 primary health care facilities and 100 therapeutic feeding centres. We are working to rehabilitate schools and have provided financial support and supplies so that secondary school students can sit for national exams.

"But none of this is enough given the scale of the humanitarian needs amidst the ongoing violence.

"There have been glimmers of progress on the political front – occasional signs of hope that this nightmare could come to an end. Yet there are no tangible signs of peace on the ground. In fact, hostilities have increased significantly in places like Marib. All the while, children continue to suffer. After six years of war, when will parties to the conflict and those with influence over them put children first? 

"Again, I call on them to make every possible effort to keep children safe and abide by their legal obligations to keep them out of the line of fire. This includes sparing essential infrastructure on which children depend from attack – such as health facilities, water and sanitation systems.

"I want to emphasize that respecting and protecting education, including schools, students and teachers is of the utmost importance for Yemeni children and youth. We remain gravely concerned about the severity and frequency of threats and attacks against education and the use of schools for military purposes. 

"The implications of such attacks on the safety of students and their ability to enjoy their right to education cannot be overstated.

"All parties bear responsibility for killing and maiming children and all parties have regularly failed to take the necessary precautions to protect civilians. This must end.

"In addition, UNICEF and our partners need sustained, unconditional and uninterrupted humanitarian access to people in need wherever they are in Yemen – no matter who controls the areas they live in. Bureaucratic hurdles should not get in the way of our ability to deliver aid and we value support from donors and Member States in resolving these challenges.

"Such efforts are also crucial for demining work to be carried out safely and effectively. 

"Yemen imports nearly everything, including humanitarian supplies. We must reopen the port of Hudaydah to commercial imports and fuel. Millions more people could be plunged into famine if vital imports remain restricted.

"The last time I addressed the Security Council on Yemen was before the pandemic. COVID-19 has further complicated the already dire humanitarian situation. The health system is hanging by a thread. So is the economy. Vaccination campaigns across the country must be urgently expanded, especially with the emergence of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants.  

"I also take this opportunity to urge the international community to increase its financial support to help meet the immediate needs of children, and make longer-term investments to prevent the complete collapse of health, water, sanitation, nutrition, protection and education systems – all of which Yemeni children need now and over the years to come.

"UNICEF and our partners are ready to work with the parties to ensure that the salaries of civil servants are paid regularly – a step that would put money back in the pockets of millions of people, helping families to survive. This would also support the functioning of basic services that are essential to a successful humanitarian response.

"Likewise, we must also take steps to boost people’s incomes. That means protecting remittances, which are a lifeline for millions of families and constitute Yemen’s largest source of foreign exchange.

"Ultimately, children in Yemen need a comprehensive and lasting peace. Parties to the conflict must work to reach a negotiated political solution, prioritizing and upholding the rights of children. Only then will children be able put this nightmare behind them and turn hopefully toward their dreams for the future."


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