Growing Up in YemenJune 10, 2016 in Yemen
We assess that the situation in Yemen has gone beyond the scope of aid. Yemen is facing the catastrophic reality of famine unless people can return to the fields, imports resume enabling markets to trade at normal prices. The United Nations estimates 9,000 casualties, including over 3,000 civilian deaths in the Yemeni conflict from March 2015 to 2016. The Houthis, a rebel group composed of Shiite Muslims, feel marginalized in the majority Sunni country and have loyalties to an ex-president of Yemen. The situation led to one of the world’s deadliest yet least reported conflicts.
One third of fighters in Yemen are children, many of whom have been captured and are now subject to an agreement between the warring sides. It is unclear how many child prisoners are being held. According to Yemeni political sources Houthis, the government submitted a list of almost 7,000 prisoners they say are held by the other side. Children can be seen manning check points in many cities in Yemen, recruited by the warring parties in the conflict. The UN’s child agency UNICEF counted 738 minors were recruited with children as young as ten taking up arms. It marks a five-fold increase from 2014. However, they admitted this was a conservative estimate and there were likely many more.
A Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against Houthi militias, who are aligned with Iran. The airstrikes have been condemned by the U.N. human rights chief for killing civilians. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon publicly acknowledged on Thursday that he removed the Saudi-led coalition currently bombing Yemen from a blacklist of child killers (72 hours after it was published) due to a financial threat to defund United Nations programs. Saudi Arabia denies the threats. The U.N.’s 2015 “Children and Armed Conflict” report originally listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen under “parties that kill or maim children” and “parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.” The report, which was based on the work of U.N. researchers in Yemen, attributed 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 injured to the bombing coalition.
Children growing up in Yemen face multiple threats. If they escape recruitment by one of the warring factions, they may be one of the victims of the fighting or the deepening humanitarian crisis. Children are disproportionately the victims of the war. Civilian infrastructures are not safe from attacks with schools and hospitals finding themselves in the firing line. In 2015 alone, 900 children were killed and 1,300 wounded. The UN calculates that six children have been killed or maimed every day since March. Yemen is in the throes of an acute humanitarian crisis. According to UNICEF 178,600 children under 5 were treated for severe acute malnutrition and another 10,000 Yemeni children died from preventable diseases in 2015, due to what the UN called ‘the total collapse of the health system’.
Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Yemen has fallen off the media’s radar but it has a strong democratic movement which is being hampered by third world conditions. Already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East before the fighting began in March 2015, Yemen has always relied heavily on imports. Around 90% of its food comes from abroad, including 85% of its staple grain crops. Airports, ports and land routes have now been forced to close, either due to damage or blockades. A food crisis seems to be pushing almost a quarter of the population to starvation. Of its 24 million people, over 80% are in need of assistance in order to survive. Yemen, once known as “Happy Arabia” it is heading towards poverty, malnutrition in one of the biggest crises of our time. The security to citizens, visitors, organizations and infrastructures cannot be guaranteed. Yemen is currently the poorest country within the Arab world. As well as the lack of supplies coming into the country, Taiz, one of its biggest cities, has been sealed off since September 2015. This has resulted in the loss of livelihoods for tens of thousands of families. Production has declined and mass internal displacement has severely disrupted an already limited agriculture. The overall scenario caused prices of basic commodities to sky-rocket. The cost of a minimum staple food basket for an average family has doubled since the crisis began. The number of people begging on the street has increased, while food prices are through the roof. Even when other essential goods are available, people are being forced to travel long distances to get them. Families are travelling up to 30km on foot, along treacherous mountain routes, just to reach the nearest affordable market. For those not able to make the trip, the only hope is to count on the good nature of neighbors, skip meals, beg or starve.