UNICEF official laments “extremely dire” situation of Yemen’s children

There perhaps is no worse place in the world today to be a child than Yemen, a senior official with UN children's agency, UNICEF, said on Thursday.

Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, was briefing journalists on his recent visit to the country, where ongoing fighting between government forces and rebels has pushed seven million to the edge of famine.

Dianne Penn reports.

Mr Cappelaere reported that in Yemen, the number of children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition has nearly doubled in the past four years: from around 250,000 to close to half a million.

Meanwhile, a "massive" cholera outbreak has generated more than 100,000 reported cases in recent weeks, with children accounting for around 40 per cent.

The situation is compounded by the fact that half the health system is not functioning, while the other half is running on what he called "a zero budget."

And while doctors, nurses and other health workers try to handle the caseload, Mr Cappelaere said they have not been paid in the past eight or nine months.

"Overall, colleagues, I think today there is for a child, a boy or girl, not much worse places to grow up than in Yemen. The situation in Yemen is extremely dire."

The UNICEF official expressed "unlimited admiration" for Yemen's health care professionals who continue to persevere despite the challenges they face.

However, Mr Cappelaere said it was "unfortunate" that people there are resorting to "negative coping mechanisms" to survive, with children being the first to suffer.

He reported that the number of child brides, that is girls under 18 years old, has increased by 20 per cent, while the number of boys forced to abandon school to look for work is "skyrocketing."

Source: United Nations Radio