Six years of conflict has caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen – which has only been further compounded by COVID-19. What does this mean for children, both those still living in Yemen and those who have been forced to flee elsewhere, and what is UNICEF doing to help?

What is happening in Yemen?

Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.

The roots of the conflict began in 2011, with the Yemeni Revolution (part of the larger Arab Spring movement), but some scholars place the very beginning as far back as 2004.

Since the conflict escalated in March 2015, the country has become a living hell for the country’s children. Now, with COVID-19 continuing to spread, Yemen is facing an emergency within an emergency. Sanitation and clean water are in short supply. Only half of health facilities are functioning, and many that remain operational lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus. Many health workers are receiving no salaries or incentives.

How is the crisis affecting children?

The war's impact on children has been staggering. Children are the primary victims of the war: nearly 3,200 have been killed, over 5,700 have been injured and nearly 3,500 have been recruited into armed forces and groups.

Additionally, more than 325,000 children under 5 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and more than 20.5 million people urgently need WASH services. These conditions are heightening the risk of cholera, malnutrition and other WASH-related diseases, including COVID-19. Immunization coverage has stagnated at the national level, with 37 per cent of children under 1 year missing routine vaccinations. As a result, the country is seeing regular outbreaks of measles, diphtheria and other preventable diseases.

COVID-19 has put added pressure on the already fragile health system – more than half of health facilities are not functioning – and global shortages and breaks in the supply chain could lead to further loss of household income, rising food prices and inflation.

At least 2 million children in Yemen were out of school before the COVID-19 outbreak; and following COVID-19 school closures, an additional 5.8 million children have had their educations disrupted. School closures and the worsening economic situation due to COVID-19 restrictions have increased the vulnerability of children and women to exploitation, violence and abuse, including child labour, domestic and gender-based violence and child marriage.

What is UNICEF doing to help children in Yemen?

UNICEF is on the ground across Yemen to save children’s lives, to help them cope with the impact of conflict, and to help them to recover and resume their childhoods.

Conflict and violence have pushed more families into poverty and deprivation. We are helping treat severe acute malnutrition in children by providing essential therapeutic food and medical supplies.

As part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic, we shipped crucial personal protective equipment needed by frontline workers and has continued to provide risk communication and community engagement activities.  

Children are also being helped with victim assistance and education on mines and explosive remnants of war. Meanwhile, UNICEF and partners are rehabilitating damaged schools and establishing safe learning spaces.

In 2020, we:

  • Vaccinated more than 556,000 children under 1 year against measles;
  • Reached 2.3 million children under 5 years with primary health care;
  • Reached more than 390,000 children and caregivers with psychosocial support;
  • Helped around 4.5 million people access safe drinking water;
  • Provided about 1.2 million children with micronutrients including vitamin A;
  • And reached more than 265,000 people with lifesaving mine risk education.

By the end of 2021, our goal is:

  • To have admitted 289,402 children for treatment for severe acute malnutrition;
  • Vaccinated 5.5 million children against polio;
  • Provided access to gender-based violence risk mitigation/prevention/response to 6.1 million women and children;
  • And reached 5,910,000 people with critical water, sanitation and hygiene supplies (including hygiene items) and services.

Children in Yemen remain urgently in need of humanitarian aid. UNICEF can’t reach them all without your support. By becoming a monthly donor, you know you're helping to protect their right to a childhood through the year. Join us >>