As Yemen crisis deteriorates, UNICEF says children at increasing risk of disease, hunger

A child gets vaccinated for polio at Al-Olufi Health Center in downtown Sanaa. Photo: UNICEF/IMG_9423/Yasin

30 June 2015 – The ongoing conflict in Yemen is having a devastating impact on the country’s health system and has exposed millions of children to the threat of preventable diseases, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

Addressing a press briefing in Geneva earlier today, UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said that millions of children in the war-torn Gulf state are at risk of disease amid widespread interruptions in vaccination services.

While shortages in electricity and fuel are impacting health centres’ ability to provide children with critical services, many parents were also too frightened by the sharp escalation in fighting to take their children to receive vaccinations. The result, he said, is that an estimated 2.6 million children under the age of 15 are now at risk of contracting measles – a potentially fatal disease spread rapidly in times of conflict and population displacement.

At the same time, Mr. Boulierac cautioned that the number of children exposed to Acute Respiratory Infections is also likely to surge to 1.3 million due to the lack of vaccinations while over 2.5 million children remain at risk of diarrhoea due to the unavailability of safe water, poor sanitary conditions and lack of access to Oral Rehydration Salt, compared to 1.5 million prior to the conflict.

The humanitarian stresses brought on by Yemen’s conflict have only compounded the already severe human toll of the fighting. The UN has reported that thousands of people in the country have been killed and injured by airstrikes and ground fighting in the last three months alone while over 1 million people have fled their homes.

Against that backdrop, a recent joint survey released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), confirmed that six million people in the country are slipping towards severe hunger and now need emergency food and life-saving assistance, a sharp increase from the last quarter of 2014. In addition to the population facing a food security 'emergency,' over 6.5 million people are classified as facing a food insecurity security 'crisis.'

At today’s briefing, the UNICEF spokesperson cited the agency’s estimates that more than half a million children under five years of age are at risk of developing severe and acute malnutrition over the next 12 months if the situation continued to deteriorate.

Nevertheless, he said, in spite of the growing challenges, the UN agency remains on the ground delivering life-saving vaccinations and health services as well as providing crucial assistance through mobile health and nutrition teams.

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A race against time for millions of Yemeni children.Credit: UNICEF

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