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As Covid-19 Hits War-Torn Nation, UNICEF Warns Millions of Yemeni Children at Risk of Starvation

"Children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die."

Seven-year-old Jabra, pictured in a camp in Sana'a, is learning how to keep the coronavirus at bay by handwashing. (Photo: Dhia Al-Adimi/UNICEF)

Millions of children in Yemen could die of starvation unless the world acts quickly, aid group UNICEF warned Friday as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the war-torn nation, putting an already strained healthcare system at further risk. 

"As Yemen's devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably," the children's advocacy and aid group said in a new report. 

The report —titled "Yemen 5 years on: Children, Conflict, and Covid-19"— says the outbreak could send 2.4 million more Yemeni children into extreme hunger by the end of the year without the quick delivery of aid and assistance to the victims of the conflict.

"If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die," Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the group's representative to Yemen, said in a statement. "The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children ... simply do not matter."

Yemen has been under attack by a Saudi Arabia-led and U.S.-backed coalition for years as the country endures an ongoing civil war that began in 2015. 

According to the Associated Press, the situation is only getting worse as the pandemic rages and global commitments to helping the victims of the conflict dry up:

International relief agencies are alarmed by the significant decline in humanitarian funding promised earlier by donor countries. A virtual pledging conference for Yemen hosted by the U.N. and Saudi Arabia on June 2 saw 31 donors pledge $1.35 billion for humanitarian aid—a billion dollars short of what aid agencies needed and half of what countries had pledged in 2019.

[...]

Half of Yemen's health facilities are dysfunctional and 18% of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed resulting in recurrent cholera outbreaks. Around 9.6 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene and two-thirds of the country's roughly 30 million people rely on food assistance.

Nyanti said that the ongoing conflict combined with the stress to the hospital system of the pandemic mean there is no time to lose.

"Children in Yemen need lasting peace and stability in their country," said Nyanti. "Until that is achieved, we must do everything we can to save lives and protect childhoods."

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