Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at joint press briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen
Checked against delivery
NEW YORK, 28 May 2020 – “COVID-19 is a crisis in nearly every country, but very few countries face a more terrifying impact than Yemen.
“Violence and instability are a daily reality in Yemen. Schools and hospitals have come under attack. Food and water systems are barely functional. The economy is in free-fall.
“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen was a country on the brink of catastrophe. Chronic under-development and five years of war have led to a massive humanitarian disaster.
“More than 12 million children across Yemen need humanitarian assistance.
“Nearly half a million children require treatment for severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent care.
“More than 8,600 children have either been killed or injured since the beginning of the conflict five years ago.
“3,500 children have been recruited into the conflict, according to UN verified data.
“Before COVID- 2 million children were out of school. Now because of the pandemic, schools have been closed around the country, leaving an additional 5 million children out of school. And we know that in countries blighted by poverty and conflict, the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.
“Cholera and diarrhea remain an ever-present threat because children and families don’t have clean water, proper sanitation systems and hygiene supplies.
“Millions of people do not have access to handwashing facilities or cannot practice physical distancing – both of which are essential to stopping the spread of diseases.
“Airports and seaports are closed which makes it extremely difficult to bring lifesaving supplies into the country.
“With COVID-19 spreading across the country, Yemen is now facing a triple catastrophe of conflict, coronavirus and cratering economy.
“And as always, it is children who suffer first and suffer most.
“Although routine immunization continues, the pandemic has put immunization campaigns on hold. These campaigns have been critical for us to increase coverage, especially with the near-collapse of the health system. Now that these campaigns are suspended, 5 million children under the age of five will not be vaccinated against polio. 1.7 million children will not be vaccinated against diphtheria. 2.4 million children will not be vaccinated against cholera. Over 400,000 women of childbearing age will not be vaccinated against tetanus.
“We are confronting a crisis on top of a crisis – a pandemic on top of a brutal conflict – but we remain steadfast in our commitment to stay and deliver for the children of Yemen.
“We’ve reached 16 million people with information on how to stay safe from COVID-19 using TV, radio and social media — and our network of volunteers who are going door-to-door.
“We’re supporting health facilities and hospitals and providing clean water and hygiene kits to communities in need.
“We are also working around the clock to bring in essential supplies — including personal protective equipment — to keep health and nutrition workers safe.
“But in pushing back against COVID-19, we must also continue to respond to the other essential needs of children – treating those who are severely malnourished, delivering vaccines, protecting them from violence and exploitation, and making sure they don’t miss out on their education.
“But we need more help.
“On June 2, the UN and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are hosting a virtual pledging event to sound the alarm on this crisis. We need donors to step up and increase their financial support of our lifesaving work.
“We also need humanitarian access to reach the children and families whose lives hang in the balance.
“And most of all, we need peace. The children of Yemen need the fighting to stop.
“We renew our call for all parties to the conflict, across the country, to lay down their weapons and negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement. We call on them to show true leadership and put the wellbeing of Yemen’s children first.
“Today, the pandemic is pushing Yemen even closer to the brink of collapse. As UNICEF stands with the children of Yemen, we call on our global partners to do the same.”