Kids bearing brunt of Yemen unrest, says Unicef

A child outside a house which was destroyed a few months ago in the capital, Sanaa. Unicef says at least six children are killed or maimed every day for the past year.
A child outside a house which was destroyed a few months ago in the capital, Sanaa. Unicef says at least six children are killed or maimed every day for the past year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Country on verge of collapse amid conflict and humanitarian crisis, says UN agency

GENEVA • A year-long conflict is threatening to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, the United Nations reported on Tuesday, saying that "children are paying the highest price".

The effects of the conflict and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions have brought Yemen "to the point of collapse", Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, said in a report, adding that the country was at risk of becoming a failed state.

At least six children have been killed or maimed in the fighting every day for the past year, Unicef said, calling that "the tip of the iceberg" because that number represented only the cases that had been verified. The toll is almost certainly much higher, the organisation said.

For the past year, a Saudi-led coalition has sought to re-establish the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was driven into exile by Houthi rebels and their allies.

Mr Hadi was able to reach the southern port city of Aden in September, but the front lines have hardly shifted since despite a costly campaign marked by intensive Saudi-led air strikes.

The Unicef report was released as the Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels prepared for a halt to hostilities, scheduled to come into effect at midnight on April 10, and for a round of peace talks, the second this year, to start in Kuwait eight days later.

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday it had released 109 Yemeni prisoners in return for nine Saudis. Saudi military officials reported this month a drop in fighting along the border with Yemen, but Unicef's representative in Yemen, Mr Julien Harneis, said that fighting around the fiercely contested city of Taiz had intensified in recent days and that heavy air strikes had continued in the north of the country.

The World Health Organisation said last week that more than 6,200 people had been killed and over 30,000 others wounded in the past year. Unicef reported that at least 934 children had been killed in the conflict, 61 per cent of them in air strikes, and that another 1,356 had been wounded.

"Children are paying the highest price for a conflict not of their making," Mr Harneis said in a statement.

He said there has been a "massive spike" in the recruitment of children, some as young as 10, by armed groups, particularly the Houthis. In addition to air strikes, civilians must contend with hazards posed by unexploded bombs and cluster munitions dropped by the Saudi coalition, and with land mines laid by Houthi forces as they pulled back.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'Kids bearing brunt of Yemen unrest, says Unicef'. Print Edition | Subscribe