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At a glance: Yemen

Cold weather and poor nutrition face children affected by conflict in northern Yemen

© UNICEF Yemen/2010/Sethna
UNICEF Regional Communication Specialist Najwa Mekki talks to displaced children in Amran city, Yemen.

By Najwa Mekki

AMRAN CITY, Yemen, 4 March 2010 – Ever since the raging conflict in northern Yemen drove her from her home in Sa’ada to the city of Amran, Fatma has been praying day and night for the fighting to end. She longs to be reunited with her two married daughters who stayed behind, one of whom is a mother of 10 children.

But they can be reunited only if the two warring parties agree to a cessation of hostilities. Tensions continue despite a recent ceasefire between rebel forces and the government.

Camps for the displaced

More than 250,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in northern Yemen since it first erupted in 2004. Until a permanent solution is reached, they will continue to live away from their homes, in camps for displaced people or scattered amongst host communities in the governorates of Amran and Hajjah.

As of 23 December, Amran Governorate was home to an estimated 5,200 displaced families. Nearly half of these families, some 20,000 people, live in Amran city.

Along with many families from Sa’ada, Fatma arrived in Amran five months ago, when the conflict escalated. The city of Amran should be only a 30-minute drive from the capital, but the long wait at checkpoints can turn that into a dangerous 90-minute trip.

Fatma shares her crowded rented apartment in Amran with five families – 28 people all told. To compensate for the limited space, two tents have been pitched in the front yard to serve as men's sleeping quarters.

Hygiene and literacy, despite difficult times

One of Fatma’s daughters, Shohra, 15, works to help improve hygiene conditions in her community. After receiving hygiene promotion training from Oxfam, a UNICEF partner, Shohra now goes door-to-door teaching women how they can help protect their children from the risk of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.

© Zahra Sethna/UNICEF Yemen/January 2010
Mothers and children receiving UNICEF hygiene kits in Amran, northern Yemen.

"I tell mothers and children that they have to wash their hands before and after they eat, after they use the bathroom, and before they prepare food," Shohra said proudly.

Their neighbors share a four-bedroom house. Ten families, consisting of 50 people, have been renting the house for the past two months, paying 40,000 rials – almost $200 – which the women have helped raise by selling their gold. They had no money for February's rent, and the landlord is threatening to evict them.

One of the tenants, Ahlam, was an adult literacy teacher in Sa’ada. She and her family had to flee during the month of Ramadan. "We had houses back home," she said, "but we left with just the clothes on our back. Our children are not used to the cold weather, and many of them have no warm clothes."

In addition to the obvious signs of chronic malnutrition, many also suffer from upper respiratory infections.

Access to children at risk

As part of its effort to assist families affected by the fighting, UNICEF has distributed warm clothing to more than 20,000 children in Sa’ada, and in the governorates of Amran, Al Jawf and Hajjah.

With the support of the Yemen Women’s Union, UNICEF also distributed hygiene kits to hundreds of displaced families in Amran city. The kits include soap, diapers, sanitary napkins, detergent and other items.

Thousands of women and children are unable to flee to safer areas. For UNICEF and its partners, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to gain access to these dangerous regions of conflict in order to deliver essential support services and resources.



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