Our work overseas

Yemeni children face fighting a virus in a war zone

After more than five years of conflict, families in Yemen now face the threat of a deadly pandemic without even the most basic supplies.

As Covid-19 spreads around the globe, children in Yemen are faced with fighting the virus while also fighting for their most basic human rights.

After more than five years of conflict, Yemen has become the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Around 80 per cent of the population are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance which includes over 12 million children.

With Yemen's first case of coronavirus confirmed in mid-April, United Nations officials are now warning that there is full-blown transmission of the virus apparent.

The importance of frequent hand washing with soap and water is a message that is being continually broadcast around the world. Yet how can Yemeni children protect themselves through good hygiene when their country is crippled by war, water and soap are scarce and social distancing is impossible in cramped camps for the internally displaced?

For children like 11-year-old Fatima pictured below, the simple act of gathering water for her family is now more dangerous than ever.

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Fatima and Hayat (9) are seen here collecting water for their families. They wait in line to collect water every day, along with many others. They live in the Omar Bin Yasser, a refugee camp in the city of Aden. Aden was recently labelled by the Yemen government as being "infested" with coronavirus.

For now, all schools have closed. Fatima and Hayat help out with gathering water instead. Their families struggle to access even a single bar of soap, which would help protect them from the spread of Covid-19.

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Mohammed Yahya also lives in the same camp for internally displaced people as Fatima and Hayat. He is charged with fetching water for his family each morning after he wakes up. Yet he's just 13 years old.

Mohammed – along with his three brothers and sisters, mother and father – escaped from his home, in the city of Al-Hodeidah, due to escalating violence in the region. They've been living at the camp now for two years.

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Fortunately for families like Mohammed's, UNICEF has been working tirelessly in Yemen during the conflict. Last year alone UNICEF delivered safe drinking water to over 5.4 million people, and hygiene kits to over 200,000 families.

Right now, UNICEF's work in Yemen looks a little different, as we adhere to social distancing guidelines while distributing essential supplies. We've helped to reach more than half a million people with information on physical distancing through house-to-house visits and the provision of our essential hygiene kits to families in need hasn't stopped.

In Abyan (pictured above), families forced to flee their homes, because of war, now come to collect hygiene kits laid out metres apart. The kits contain soap, towels, laundry detergent, jerry cans, buckets and sanitary pads.

Access to clean water continues to be an issue. Yemen is a water-scarce country. In many areas, water must be pumped in from remote boreholes. These boreholes can be up to 1.5 kilometres deep, meaning water pumps must be extremely long and also use a lot of fuel to operate. As with many other essentials, fuel is expensive. Therefore water – the most basic essential of life – has become extremely costly, too.

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In many parts of Yemen, UNICEF and partners help with the supply of water, trucking it in directly to communities. We've scaled up these activities since the pandemic, providing even more families with access to water so they can practice good hygiene and hand washing.

Ahmed Abdullah Al-Azani is 30 years old and works in the capital city of Sana'a, trucking in water.

"We start running the water truck from the morning," he says. "War has affected our lives and we are tired of these conditions."

"I heard about coronavirus in the outer regions as an infectious, harmful and dangerous disease. I protect myself from the virus by washing my hands, not shaking hands and wearing gloves."

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Water isn't the only critical supply that UNICEF is providing right now. Doctors from a quarantine hospital in the city of Aden are seen here unloading a truck full of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies to help fight the pandemic. With only half of Yemen's health facilities fully functioning, humanitarian aid is desperately required in order to counter the virus threat.

Unfortunately, the restrictions in movement imposed by the Government to stamp out the virus have severely affected UNICEF’s ability to supply and distribute supplies around the country.

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Back at home, after collecting the daily supply of water, young Fatima helps her mother Zahara wash her hands thoroughly. Fatima knows what to do, emphasising to her family the importance of hand washing to prevent the spread of disease. She knows this lesson is important now more than ever.

As Fatima and her mum do the best they can to keep safe during the pandemic, UNICEF will be there for them, as well as thousands of other Yemeni families, supplying clean water, soap, medical supplies, PPE, and hope.

UNICEF is working tirelessly to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This year we are aiming to reach 6.8 million people in Yemen with access to safe water, and aiming to provide 5 million people with hygiene kits to help protect themselves against Covid-19. We urgently need your help to reach communities that need us most.