UNICEF press conference: Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, on the humanitarian situation of children in Yemen

26 November 2017

© UNICEF/Madhok
On 25 November 2017, a shipment of vaccines is delivered to the Sana’a International airport, bringing in15 tonnes of BCG, Penta and PCV vaccine supplies to protect Yemeni children from diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus.

This is a summary of what was said by Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at in Amman, Jordan.

AMMAN, 26 November 2017 - Today’s briefing has been triggered by our successful delivery yesterday of 1.9 million doses of vaccines to Sana’a airport.

It was our first delivery of humanitarian supplies to Sana’a airport since the 6th of November.

If you allow me, I will give you a little bit of a brief and then I will definitely take time for questions.

Today, it is fair to say that Yemen is one of the worst places on earth to be a child.

More than 11 million Yemeni children are today in acute need of humanitarian assistance. That’s almost every single Yemeni boy and girl. 

The reason behind this is very straightforward: decades of conflict, decades also of chronic underdevelopment.

Yemen is the country with the most depleted water sources across the globe; Yemen today is also the country with almost the highest level of malnutrition. What has happened in the last two and a half years, throughout Yemen has of course only exacerbated what was already a very sad reality. Today we estimate that every ten minutes a child in Yemen is dying from preventable diseases. The massive and unprecedented outbreak of acute watery diarrhea and cholera this year is no surprise. As you know, close to one million Yemenis have been affected by acute watery diarrhea and cholera.

It’s not a surprise, because of the almost entirely devastated water and sanitation system throughout the country. Not a surprise, because in Yemen the health system is on its knees.

The war in Yemen is sadly a war on children. Close to 5,000 children have been killed or seriously injured the last two and a half years alone.

Thousands of schools and health facilities have been damaged or completely destroyed.

Two million children today in Yemen suffer acute malnutrition.

Enough reasons for humanitarian organizations like UNICEF to have stepped up our efforts to assist Yemeni children, to assist the Yemeni people and I really would not want to miss this opportunity to express our deepest appreciation, admiration even, for all humanitarian workers today in Yemen, particularly our Yemeni colleagues. They have shown unprecedented examples of heroism over the last months.

Access to children however is a daily challenge, today more than ever. We therefore welcome yesterday’s reopening of Sana’a airport. It allowed us to send in a first humanitarian convoy, as I said 1.9 million doses of vaccines, vaccines that are urgently needed for a planned campaign to vaccinate 600,000 children across Yemen. Vaccinate them against: diphtheria, meningitis, whooping cough, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

We are very grateful for what we could achieve yesterday. However, this is not enough, much, much more is needed.

Let me make three simple pleas:

1. Far more humanitarian supplies are needed today. Yesterday’s success cannot be a one-off. Far more supplies are indeed needed. We have, as UNICEF, vessels on their way to Hodeida port. Vessels carrying ready-to-use therapeutic food for assisting malnourished children, chlorine tablets for chlorinating water wells in order to ensure drinking water, medical supplies to support the prevention and also treatment of acute watery diarrhea and cholera. More vaccines are urgently needed to treat the outbreak of diphtheria; as you may be aware we have an outbreak of diphtheria mainly concentrated in the governorate of Ibb but spreading and spreading rapidly so more vaccines are needed urgently to prevent and treat diphtheria. More vaccines are equally needed for our routine immunization. Unfortunately, the vaccines stocks, despite the 1.9 million that we delivered yesterday, are running out, vaccine stocks are depleted. So, we urgently need to get more routine vaccines in.

2. We also need access to affordable fuel. As you know access to drinking water in Yemen is achieved mainly, if not exclusively, through pumping water. With the absence of a national power grid we need to pump water using generators and therefore access to affordable fuel is equally in huge need. This implies that getting the supplies is one part, ensuring that the supplies whatever they are reaching every single vulnerable girl and boy throughout Yemen is another challenge. We need access, we need unimpeded access atany given moment in time to those millions of children in need.

3. And a third request, is another straight forward one: it’s the war on children to stop. It’s the war to stop. On behalf of every single boy and girl in Yemen, let me conclude by appealing once again to all parties responsible for today’s situation in Yemen, to all parties and all those with a heart for children: Please take your responsibility, don’t take it tomorrow, take your responsibility now.

Thank you so much.

Notes for editors:

Download photos and b-roll from: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AM40805FSQX

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in Yemen visit http://uni.cf/yemencrisis

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For further information, please contact:

Juliette Touma, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, +962 79 867 4628, jtouma@unicef.org

Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York, +1917 209 1804, nmekki@unicef.org

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