LONDON: Roughly one in four civilian casualties of the war in Yemen are children, and the situation is getting worse, Save the Children said during a press conference attended by Arab News on Monday to mark six years since the start of the conflict.
“Between 2018 and 2020, there were 2,341 confirmed child casualties,” but “the actual number is likely to be much higher,” the aid group said.
“In addition, the conflict is getting deadlier for children. In 2018, one in five civilian casualties were children, but in 2019 and 2020, that jumped to one in four.”
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, was plunged into violence when the Iran-backed Houthi militia staged a violent coup against the UN-recognized government in the capital Sanaa. Since then, the humanitarian situation has progressively worsened.
“All wars that are waged in the world are wars against children, and Yemen is, sadly, a classic example of that,” said Jeremy Stoner, Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East.
“Six years of conflict isn’t just about sporadic acts of violence that involve children, but what happens is that over six years the crises become compounded,” he added.
“We’re in a situation this year where Yemen is about to experience an enormous and deep-rooted famine that’s going to affect thousands or hundreds of thousands of children, and others, in that country. Children are going to be suffering these consequences right now, but (also) for years to come.”
Save the Children warned that a serious drop in funding for humanitarian aid, as well as problems in delivering it to those most in need, are likely to deepen Yemen’s already-serious crisis.
Due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, countries such as the UK have slashed their aid budgets and donations to Yemen have dropped massively, said Gabriella Waaijman, humanitarian director at Save the Children.
“It’s absolutely shocking to me that the UK proposed a 60 percent cut in its budget for Yemen … when six months ago the UK launched a global call to action to prevent famine,” she added.
“I don’t want to pick on the UK only. In 2018, we had about $5 billion available to Yemen — in 2020 we had $2 billion, so it’s not just the UK.”
Financial aid remains essential to ease the suffering of the Yemeni people, but the ultimate goal is peace, said Waaijman and Stoner.
Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military coalition in support of the UN-recognized government against the Houthis, on Monday said it had agreed major steps with the UN toward peace in Yemen.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday announced a comprehensive ceasefire across Yemen, to be supervised by the UN.
In steps aimed at easing the humanitarian situation in the country, flights will be allowed to and from Houthi-controlled Sanaa to a number of regional and international destinations.
Restrictions on the port of Hodeidah will be eased, allowing ships and cargo — including vital humanitarian aid — to travel in and out of Yemen.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Prince Faisal in a phone call that he supports efforts to “end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a ceasefire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”
Prince Faisal said: “It is up to the Houthis now. The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran’s interests first.”