UN: lack of funding puts more Yemeni children at risk of starvation and death

Unicef says it needs $54.5 million by end of August or 19 million people will lose access to health care

Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, is carried by her father as they leave a treatment centre in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. / AFP / ESSA AHMED
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The United Nations children's agency has warned of a sharp increase in malnutrition and deaths among children in Yemen unless its programmes receive more funding.

About 80 per cent of Yemen's population is reliant on aid after five years of war that has divided the country between the internationally recognised government in the south and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north. Recurring outbreaks of cholera and the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic have added to the humanitarian crisis.

A Unicef report published on Friday said 19 million people will lose access to health care unless $54.5 million is received by the end of August.

"If we do not receive urgent funding for our WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene], health and nutrition programmes, it will be catastrophic for children in Yemen. Children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die. Covid-19 could spread further as families lose access to clean water," Unicef spokeswoman Sara Beysolow Nyanti told The National.

The UN warned earlier this month that three-quarters of the aid programmes backed by its agencies in Yemen will have to shut down without more funding.

“The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children, in a nation devastated by conflict, disease and economic collapse, simply do not matter,” Ms Nyanti said.

The Unicef report said that without support for its programmes, five million children under the age of five will not be immunised against killer diseases and 23,500 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at increased risk of dying.

The number of malnourished Yemeni children could rise by 20 per cent to 2.4 million by the end of year, almost half of them below the age of five.

“An additional 6,600 children under the age of five could die from preventable causes by the end of the year – an increase of 28 per cent,” the report said.

Ms Nyanti said that aside from funds, children in Yemen need peace.

“All warring parties must put an end to violence and protect civilians, especially children, wherever they are in the country. We need the international community to join us in prioritising the needs of children and giving them a seat at the table,” she said.

International donors promised $1.35 billion for Yemen at a conference on June 2, short of the UN target of $2.4bn that it says is needed to avoid severe cuts to the world’s biggest aid operation.

Ms Nyanti said with the UAE's support, Unicef has been "able to be a lifeline for millions of families every month and it is critical these programmes continue as the situation on the ground continues to unravel”.

Donors are slowly delivering promised funding, she said, but more needs to be done.

"The international community must translate pledges into funds and continue to keep Yemen high on the international community's agenda," Unicef's spokesperson, Sara Beysolow Nyanti said.

"The international community must translate pledges into funds and continue to keep Yemen high on the international community’s agenda," she said.

Unicef has appealed for $461m for its humanitarian response in Yemen, and an additional $53m for its Covid-19 response alone.

But so far its Covid appeal is only 10 per cent funded and the humanitarian appeal is only 39 per cent funded.

“Covid-19 is causing global chaos of an unprecedented scale. Our donor partners are grappling with crises in their own countries, while at the same time, the needs in Yemen grow,” Ms Nyanti said.

Yemen has reported slightly more 1,000 cases of Covid-19 and 274 related deaths, but many say the figures do not include all infections in areas controlled by the Houthis. Aid agencies have said testing levels are low.