Routine immunization of children has dropped by 40 percent in some areas of Yemen, leading to outbreaks of polio and measles and reflecting a growing collapse of public services in a country that is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, two senior UN officials warn.
“Yemen is on the verge of a true, deep humanitarian disaster,” Geert Cappelaere, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Yemen, told journalists in Geneva on 24 October. “Every day we have hundreds of thousands of people who become food insecure.”
He and his counterpart from the World Food Programme (WFP), Lubna Alaman, painted a bleak picture of the situation
in Yemen, which he called “a chronically underdeveloped country”.
Yemen has the world’s second highest rate of chronic malnutrition, after Afghanistan, and about half the population live in deep poverty. More than half the children under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition.
According to UNICEF, preliminary findings of a September nutrition assessment in Abyan Governorate – a battleground in ongoing fighting between government troops and Islamic militants since 28 May – estimates global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence at 18.6 percent, which is beyond the emergency threshold, of which 3.9 percent are severe and 14.7 percent moderate cases. In Sa’dah, high malnutrition rates continue to be identified and children referred for treatment.
According to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, conflict, poverty, drought, soaring food prices and collapsing state services have created a daily struggle for survival for millions of people – including 100,000 displaced by recent fighting in the south, thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa, and 300,000 displaced by previous conflict in the north.
In some parts of the country, one in three children are malnourished – among the highest malnutrition levels in the world, she said on 11 October. Hospitals and clinics are overcrowded or not working at all, and access to safe water is becoming increasingly difficult. Tens of thousands of children are losing their education due to school closures.
“The message is very clear, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, and very fast,” said Alaman.
On 21 October, the UN Security Council urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The non-binding resolution, passed unanimously by the Council’s 15 members, backed a Gulf-brokered plan that would end Saleh’s 33 years in power.
The Council also condemned human rights violations and the excessive use of force by the Yemeni authorities against peaceful protesters as well as violence by other groups and said that hundreds of people – mainly civilians, including women and children – had died in the violence of the past months.
According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar, security has deteriorated “very dramatically” in Yemen with five or six provinces out of government control, a large area in the north controlled by Al-Houthi rebels, Al-Qaida militants holding three cities and an important geographic area in the south, and Sana’a, the capital, split between rival forces.
“We need an immediate ceasefire by all parties in the conflict, a political solution to the transition in line with the Security Council resolution,” said WFP Middle East director Daly Belgasmi. What is needed, he added, “is humanitarian stabilization, a political solution and recovery”.
Both WFP and UNICEF officials stressed that the road to recovery will be slow and arduous.
“It will take us many, many months, even in certain sectors several years, to undo the huge impact that the last several months have had,” said Cappelaere. “A political deal is, for the humanitarian community, not the end; it is just an element in a process of addressing the huge humanitarian needs.”