NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that international donors have pledged $1.1 billion in aid for Yemen. Rather than a humanitarian action, this pledge only underscores the responsibility that big powers have had in the crisis that has all but devastated that country. Some of the countries that have pledged support have actively contributed to the ravaging of Yemen.
According to UNICEF, at least one child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhea or respiratory-tract infections as the war rages on. Some 462,000 children suffer from severe malnutrition and nearly 2.2 million are in need of urgent care.
“The state of health in children in the Middle East’s poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today,” Meritxell Relano, UNICEF’s acting representative, said in December. Doctors Without Borders, one of several medical charities operating in the country, has called the situation “extremely challenging.” According to that organization, hospitals have been repeatedly hit by shelling, airstrikes and gunfire.
As a result of the war, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions more have been driven from their homes. In addition to those killed and injured — many of them children — the conflict has taken a devastating toll on an already inadequate health care system, and left it in tatters.
Almost 15 million people do not have access to health care in Yemen, including 8.8 million who are living in severely under-served areas. Basic medical supplies are lacking and only 45 percent of health facilities are functioning. It is estimated that 8 million Yemenis have lost their livelihoods or are living in host communities which have overburdened basic services. Communities require help to clear land mines and other explosive items in up to 15 governorates. The people of Yemen — particularly its children — rendered vulnerable by the conflict require psychosocial support and guidance.
The war has had a serious deleterious effect on children and young people’s education. Two million children are out of school, the result of more than 1,600 schools being rendered unfit for use. Many schools are now occupied by armed groups or hosting internally displaced persons.
According to World Bank estimates, the poverty rate has doubled to 62 percent since the beginning of the conflict. Public- sector salaries, on which about 30 percent of the population depends, are paid only irregularly.
One has the distressing impression that civilians, mostly children, have become pawns in a deadly chess game between warring factions. As Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s director for the Mideast and North Africa, told The Associated Press, “There is no single country in the world where, today, children are suffering more than in Yemen.”
The recent $1.1 billion pledge for war-torn Yemen by international donors raises important questions. Can anybody imagine what that sum would have done for that country before the conflict? How many schools, children’s playgrounds, health centers, hospitals and roads could have been built? Instead, foreign intervention in Yemen has left a ravaged country. Have we humans become so inured to other people’s suffering that we cannot think straight?
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant.