Nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, four United Nations agencies have warned. Of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. The agencies also warned that these were among the highest levels of severe acute malnutrition recorded in Yemen since the escalation of conflict in 2015. Malnutrition damages a child’s physical and cognitive development, especially during the first two years of a child’s life. It is largely irreversible, perpetuating illness, poverty and inequality. The humanitarian response remains critically underfunded.
In this year’s open letter, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore explains how we can reimagine a better post-COVID world for every child. COVID-19 is the first truly global crisis we have seen in our lifetime. No matter where we live, the pandemic affects every person – children most of all. The world needs to rally behind a plan to protect our children – a promise from our generation to the next to invest in health and education, build more resilient systems and services that can reach all children, and ensure that budget cuts and economic downturns do not harm them.
Juana plays outside at a shelter in Campur in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Juana is one of more than 900,000 children in Guatemala affected by the two hurricanes, which struck in quick succession and left landslides and massive flooding across the region. UNICEF has been working with the government, which has been developing a strategy for the opening of safe spaces—a challenge complicated by the ongoing risk of COVID-19. The strategy includes training volunteers on ‘Return to Joy’, a play-based approach culturally adapted to each community that uses child-to-child techniques to help children cope with upheaval.
Children living in the affected areas, particularly those who have been displaced, could soon be at risk of contracting waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrheal infections. The powerful storm, which made landfall on 23 January, brought with it torrential rain and strong winds of up to 160 kilometers per hour, leaving a swath of damaged and destroyed houses, farmland and vital infrastructure in its wake. UNICEF’s emergency teams deployed to Beira before Cyclone Eloise hit and are currently helping to assess the damage to ensure a swift and effective relief operation.