SANAA, Yemen — The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen has devastated the civilian population, and poverty, disease, and starvation are taking a heavy toll on the country’s children.
The Yemeni struggled for years with poverty and a lack of quality health care even before the war began, but the conflict has driven the nation to the verge of total collapse and pushed child mortality rates way up.
“Now, the situation is much worse and an estimated 1,000 children are dying every week from preventable killers like diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections,” said Edward Santiago, Yemen director for the NGO Save the Children.
At least 1,219 children have died as a direct result of the war in Yemen, but a desperate lack of medical supplies, bombed-out hospitals, and missing or dead medical staff are likely to cause an additional 10,000 preventable deaths each year, according to “Struggling to Survive: Stories from Yemen’s collapsing health system,” a briefing published on Dec. 19 by Save the Children International.
War in Yemen erupted in March of 2015, shortly after Houthi rebels took over the government. In retaliation, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the U.S. government, began a vicious bombing campaign that deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure from hospitals to sources of fresh water.
According to a Dec. 6 report from the BBC which uses United Nations data, 50 percent of hospitals and other medical facilities have been rendered inoperable by the war. There’s also a critical shortage of medical staff and medicine, and impoverished families struggle to afford life-saving care even when it’s available.
“With parents losing their jobs and livelihoods owing to the chaos of war, many told us they have to sell belongings like jewellery, vehicles, gas canisters and land just to be able to afford the trip to hospital while others have taken out loans. Once there, they often can’t afford the cost of the medicines their children urgently need while many other parents find the facility just does not have life-saving medicines.”
Many human rights analysts have suggested Yemen’s people are being deliberately starved to death, both by bombings and by an ongoing blockade on life-saving supplies. Earlier this month, UNICEF estimated that 2.2 million Yemeni children suffer from some form of malnutrition. Of that total, 462,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, the most severe form of malnutrition, marking a 200 percent increase in malnutrition rates since 2014.
“At least one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen because of preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections,” the U.N. agency reported.
Dr. Meritxell Relano, UNICEF’s acting representative in Yemen, added: “The state of health of children in the Middle East’s poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today.”
Relano reported that the war has undone years of work by humanitarian aid workers in the region:
“Violence and conflict have reversed significant gains made in the last decade in the health and nutrition of Yemeni children. Diseases such as cholera and measles have spread and, with few health facilities functional, such outbreaks are taking a heavy toll on children.”
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