‘Shameful milestone’ in Yemen as 10,000 children killed or maimed since fighting began

Geneva Palais briefing note on the situation of children in Yemen

19 October 2021
Wardah Awad, 25 years old, with her child Gosson Ibrahim, aged 1 year and a half, who has been in the hospital for five days.
Wardah Awad, 25 years old, with her child Gosson Ibrahim, aged 1 year and a half, who has been in the hospital for five days.

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF spokesperson James Elder – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, following his recent visit to Yemen.

GENEVA, 19 October 2021 – “The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone: 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since fighting started in March 2015. That’s the equivalent of four children every day.

"These are of course the cases the UN was able to verify. Many more child deaths and injuries go unrecorded, to all but those children’s families.

"I returned yesterday from a mission that took me to both the north and south of Yemen. I met scores of children, many inspiring; all suffering. I met pediatricians, teachers, nurses – all shared personal stories that mirror those of their country: they are on the brink of total collapse.

"Yemen’s humanitarian crisis – the world’s worst - represents a tragic convergence of four threats: (1) A violent and protracted conflict, (2) economic devastation, (3) shattered services for every support system - that is, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, protection and education, (4) & a critically under-funded UN response.

"Let me share some more numbers:

  • 4 out of every 5 children need humanitarian assistance. That’s more than 11 million children;
  • 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition;
  • More than two million children are out-of-school. Another four million are at risk of dropping out;
  • Two-thirds of teachers – more than 170,000 – have not received a regular salary for more than four years;
  • 1.7 million children are now internally displaced because of the violence. As violence intensifies, particularly around Marib, more families are fleeing their homes;
  • A staggering 15 million people (more than half of whom are children – 8.5 million) do not have access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene.

"At the current funding levels, and without an end to fighting, UNICEF cannot reach all these children. There is no other way to say this – without more international support, more children – those who bear no responsibility for this crisis – will die.

"And yet UNICEF is having an impact:

• We are supporting the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in 4,000 primary health care facilities and 130 therapeutic feeding centres;

• UNICEF is providing emergency cash transfers to 1.5 million households every quarter — benefitting around 9 million people;

• We are providing safe drinking water to more than 5m people;

• We are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the delivery of COVID vaccines through the COVAX initiative;

* We are providing psychosocial support, mine risk education, and direct assistance for the most vulnerable children, including those who have survived war injuries;

• Through UNICEF’s training and deployment of thousands of community health workers, more than two million people in remote rural areas have access to healthcare services;

• And this year alone we helped 620,000 children to access formal and non-formal education; and provided vaccines - including a polio campaign that reached more than five million children.

"Despite these and other efforts, the severity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen cannot be overstated. The economy is in a critical condition. GDP has dropped by 40 per cent since 2015 when the violence escalated. Huge numbers of people have lost their jobs, and family incomes have plummeted. About one-quarter of people – including many medical workers, teachers, engineers, and sanitation workers – rely on civil servant salaries that are paid erratically, if at all.

"And while displacement and the destruction of schools have meant classrooms can have as many as 200 children in them, teachers turn up. Yes, unpaid teachers turn up and teach.

"Meeting them left me with no doubt as to the selfless commitment of everyday Yemenis, such as the pediatrician who cares for severely malnourished babies. The day I met her, she was treating a child whose life was hanging in the balance just a week earlier. With UNICEF supplies, this pediatrician saved the little girl’s life. The pediatrician had studied for a decade, including a Masters, and had been practicing medicine for 8 years. She had not been paid once in 2021. Yet she continues to serve her community.

"But such people are out of options, which means they are forced to sell everything from jewelry to cooking pots, just to feed their own children.

"The bottom line: children in Yemen are not starving because of a lack of food—they are starving because their families cannot afford food. They are starving because adults continue to wage a war in which children are the biggest losers.

"UNICEF urgently needs more than US$235 million to continue its life-saving work in Yemen till mid-2022. Otherwise, the agency will be forced to scale down or stop its vital assistance for vulnerable children.

"Funding is critical. We can draw a clear line between donor support and lives saved. But even with increased support, the war must come to an end. We urge parties to the conflict who have been fighting for too long, and those who have influence over them, to stop the fighting. Today UNICEF stated that Yemen has surpassed 10,000 children killed or maimed in the conflict. Must we really continue to add children to this miserable list month after month, year after year?

"Yemen is the most difficult place in the world to be a child. And, unbelievably, it is getting worse."


Media contacts

James Elder
Tel: +41 79941 5298
Matias Lindemann
Tel: +1 917 547 2846

Additional resources


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