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Race against time to save millions of lives in Yemen

The continuing violence in Yemen is fueling one of the worst hunger crises in the world, with nearly seven million people not knowing where their next meal will come from and in desperate need of food assistance. Nearly 2.2 million children are malnourished, including half a million who are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death if they do not receive urgent care and specialized treatment.

“Millions of children in Yemen are acutely malnourished and many are dying from diseases that are entirely preventable,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Without further action from parties to the conflict and the international community, Yemen is at a serious risk of plunging into famine – with even more children’s lives hanging in the balance. We are in a race against time.”

Yemen child suffering from malnutrition

UNICEF Canada Ambassador Zahra Al-Harazi, who grew up in Yemen, calls the situation unacceptable.

“I don’t accept that in this day and age children are still dying of hunger. Nobody should accept that. But after three years of war, Yemen is on the brink of famine,” she said. “As a child who also once lived through a civil war, I know what it means to struggle to survive. We must do better for Yemen’s children.”

Families forced to take extreme measures to survive

Violence and food insecurity are having a devastating toll on families’ incomes forcing them and their children to take extreme measures just to survive, including early marriage and joining the fighting. In the first three months of 2017, three times as many children were recruited and used by parties to the conflict compared with the last three months of 2016.

Violence has made large parts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian workers, cutting off vulnerable children and families from urgently needed aid. Despite these and other challenges, in February:

  • UNICEF supported malnutrition screening for 132,000 children and treatment for severe acute malnutrition for more than 5,000 children under the age of five,
  • Vitamin A supplementation was given to nearly five million children under five as part of a UNICEF-supported polio vaccination campaign,
  • WFP provided food assistance to a record number of 5.3 million people in 17 governorates.
Yemeni child beside destroyed house

Earlier this month, WFP announced that it is scaling up its emergency food operations in Yemen to support up to nine million people who urgently need food assistance. WFP also aims to expand its nutritional support to prevent or treat acute malnutrition for 2.9 million children under five, and pregnant and nursing mothers, including from those families that are already assisted with food or commodity vouchers.

Humanitarian needs outpacing response

The needs of people in Yemen have rapidly outpaced available resources. WFP urgently requires US$1.2 billion to meet the basic requirements of nine million food insecure people in Yemen over the coming 12 months. UNICEF has appealed for US$236 million to provide life-saving assistance to children affected by the conflict in Yemen in 2017. The efforts of both agencies are less than 20 per cent funded.

“UNICEF is on the ground providing life-saving assistance to children, but the crisis is outpacing the response,” said Al-Harazi. “This week’s pledging conference is an opportunity for the world to show its commitment to the children of Yemen and to work together to avert a total catastrophe.”

On behalf of children and vulnerable families, UNICEF and WFP are calling for an immediate political solution to end the war in Yemen. This would provide safety for millions of desperate families in Yemen and allow for a massive scale-up of food assistance, nutrition support and other humanitarian aid. Until that happens and as the conflict intensifies, the two agencies appeal to all parties to the conflict and those who have influence on them to allow unhindered humanitarian access to people in need and refrain from any action that could prevent the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian supplies.

To help UNICEF continue providing life-saving support to the children of Yemen, click here.

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