our work overseas

The World’s Forgotten Crisis

It is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and yet most people wouldn’t have heard of it, let alone being able to locate it on a map.

It’s is just as deserving of attention as the Syrian conflict, the Rohingya exodus, or the migration crisis throughout Africa, but it has been forgotten — pushed into the shadows by a world focused on bombast and titillation.

 

Yemen. Over the last few years the 30 million people who live in this poor, Middle-Eastern country have faced starvation, drought, cholera, cyclones and crippling blockades.

Schoolchildren wearing UNICEF backpacks walk in the courtyard of their school, in Hodeidah, which was damaged by fighting.

And all the while they’ve been dealing with deadly attacks that have regularly claimed the lives of civilians. Too often, they have claimed the lives of children.

Since 2015, nearly 2,400 children have been killed, more than 3,600 injured, and thousands of innocent lives have been damaged or destroyed.

Attacks against hospitals, schools and essential infrastructure are commonplace — hundreds have been documented.

Children sit in a school yard that was badly damaged bythe recent conflict.

And the continuing conflict and restrictions on access are severely limiting the ability of UNICEF and other agencies to reach the more than 11 million children requiring humanitarian assistance.

Just pause for a moment, and consider that number again — 11 million children in need.

Years of war have left infrastructure smashed and civil society in tatters.

Without clean water, children run the risk of deadly diseases. Supply lines are being strangled. Families are forced from their homes. And all the while the bombs rain down.

An inured girl receives treatment at Althawra Hospital in Hodeidah

UNICEF is not a military force. We have no power to stop an army.

Our expertise is in providing clean water facilities. And building classrooms. And rolling out immunisation programmes. That sort of work is where we excel.

But our humanitarian work cannot guard against missile strikes. In those situations all we have are words.

And we are not being listened to.

Attacking children is the lowest any party can go and unfortunately, attacking children has become a common feature of the war in Yemen.

400,000 children in Yemen are malnourished

Last week’s airstrike on a school bus is the worst single attack on children since the conflict escalated in 2015.

In the aftermath of the attack, the twisted steel skeleton of a bus, and dozens of bloodied UNICEF school bags scattered upon the ground.

More than 50 people were left dead by that attack, including 40 children who had been returning from a school picnic.

Those children who survived were taken to a hospital where they were treated with supplies provided by UNICEF.

It took dozens of dead children for this issue to briefly emerge into the light, before disappearing back into the shadows.

UNICEF Representative in Yemen Merixell Relano speaks with girls at a school in Sana’a.

The damage done by billions of dollars worth of military might, being patched up by poorly-paid workers, with the help of humanitarian agencies fully reliant on donations.

We are patching up bodies, mending infrastructure, trucking in water, providing emergency food and shelter — anything to keep children alive.

Yemen is already a broken country, and the continued fighting is beating it down even further.

UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, meets children at a child friendly space in Aden.

In June, UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, visited Yemen.

The children killed last week could easily have been those she met while there.

So, the naked anger is her words is entirely understood.

“UNICEF and others have repeatedly called for the protection of children and for respect of international humanitarian law. These calls have been met with utter disregard.

“How many more children will suffer or die before those who can act, do by putting a stop to this scourge?”

The conflict is complicated and confusing, involving many countries, belligerents and agendas, but any attack on children, by any party, is an outrage.

A premature baby receives treatment at Alsabeen Hospital in Sana’a.

Our sole concern is for those children on the ground who are being affected by this violence.

They are being starved, suffering from disease, being forced from their homes, and missing out on their education.

Based on the past few years in Yemen, this latest outrage will not be the last.

The very least we can do for those children and their families is ensure their struggle is not forgotten.

To support UNICEF’s life-saving work for children in Yemen, please click here

Words by Lachlan Forsyth.