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Yemen: The unknown crisis

Raja’a*, seven, was injured and her mother, brother and sister were killed when an explosive missile destroyed their home. She is still affected psychologically by the horrific experience, but is getting emotional support from Save the Children.

As I reach the end of my first year at Save the Children, I am struck by how little attention the conflict in Yemen has received.

I’ve worked with parliamentarians across a number of different humanitarian crises, including the ongoing civil war in Syria, the Nepal earthquake and the refugee crisis.

Compared to these events, Yemen has barely registered on the public consciousness – yet right now, it is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Life for children in Yemen prior to the conflict was already challenging – which is why Save the Children has been working there for over 50 years.

Many children there faced serious issues including military recruitment, early marriage and child labour, while nearly half of the country’s young children already suffered from chronic malnutrition.

The military operation launched in March this year by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Houthi forces only exacerbated the already severe situation in Yemen.

Children now face unprecedented threats to their lives and wellbeing. Since the start of the conflict, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has risen to over 80% of the population. That adds up to an overwhelming 21.2 million people, including almost 10 million children.  The death toll keeps rising too. Over 630 children have lost their lives already – and an estimated three children are dying each day.

Shattering impact

This week Save the Children published a new briefing: Nowhere safe for Yemen’s children: The deadly impact of explosive weapons on children.

It highlights the shattering impact of explosive weapons on children and their families. Alongside Syria, Yemen is the most dangerous place in the world for explosive violence and civilians are bearing the brunt of this violence.

Children are particularly vulnerable – and are needlessly dying as a result of daily, intensive airstrikes and ground attacks. Bombs, rockets, shells and other explosive weapons are destroying homes, schools, markets and other civilian facilities.

Moreover, just when the demand on hospitals is increasing, health facilities also are being damaged and destroyed by explosive weapons – or running out of medical supplies and fuel to run generators.

At least 69 health facilities are reported to have been damaged or destroyed, and 600 have closed due to lack of fuel, supplies and personnel.

This has left around 14.1 million people without access to basic healthcare – and that’s before you consider the emergency services needed to treat serious injuries caused by explosive weapons.

When this is life is for a young child in Yemen, it’s no surprise that many suffer from high levels of distress. Save the Children are working with children suffering from signs of psychological trauma.

We hear from children who are constantly afraid and angry – and who are scared to leave their homes, and of the sound of jets and other loud noises.

An end to the conflict is desperately needed, but even if the conflict were to end tomorrow, children’s lives will still remain at risk from landmines and other unexploded remnants of war for years to come. The country needs our support now, and in the long-term.

Moving forward

The UK government has a long and proud history of providing support to Yemen. We have led the way in the current crisis by committing to an additional £75 million in emergency aid this year.

But while the conflict has been raised in Parliament through questions and debates, including a report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen which Save the Children submitted evidence to – we must continue to raise it and highlight what more needs to be done.

As the conflict enters its ninth month and children and their families continue to suffer, Save the Children is calling for urgent action to protect civilians including an immediate end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

We’re also calling for the removal of obstacles to the free flow of humanitarian aid and vital commercial goods both into and within the country.

It isn’t hitting the headlines, but we cannot afford to ignore this crisis.

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