As the Saudi-led coalition intensified air raids in Yemen despite concerns about exacerbating what United Nations experts already call the world's worst humanitarian crisis, an international nonprofit revealed Wednesday that from 2018 to 2020, children made up nearly a quarter of the war's confirmed civilian casualties.
"Yemeni children have been living through a horrific and endless nightmare for six years now."
—Xavier Joubert, Save the Children
Warning that millions of children in Yemen remain "at risk of death, injury, starvation, or disease," Save the Children detailed how the war is growing deadlier for young Yemenis. According to the London-based group, over the three-year period, there were 2,341 confirmed child casualties—meaning both injures and deaths—"though the actual number is likely to be much higher."
One of those children is eight-year-old Omar from Taiz, who was injured in artillery shelling that killed his older brother. Omar—whose doctor says he will fully recover and be able to walk again within six weeks—recalled:
I was on my way home with a friend, and I wanted to go find my brother when the artillery shell hit us. I was paralyzed for a moment. I was looking for my brother, but I saw an old man on the ground. Then someone on a motorbike picked me up and took me to the hospital.
"I want toys to be able to play but I don't want any shelling," the child added, whose name was changed to protect his identity.
His mother said: "I want the world to alleviate the suffering of the children in Taiz. I wonder why a shell should kill a child who is just playing. This is the biggest crime; it destroys the lives of mothers and children. Omar keeps telling me he hopes there will be another explosion so he can play again with his brother [in heaven]."
"Yemeni children have been living through a horrific and endless nightmare for six years now," declared Xavier Joubert, Save the Children's Yemen country director. "Children continue to be killed and injured on a near-daily basis. They go to bed hungry, see people starving to death, and miss out on school."
Joubert explained that "every day children risk death or injury if they venture outside and get caught up in the frequent shelling and bombing of places where they should feel safe—homes, schools, hospitals, and marketplaces."
"All parties to the conflict must fully implement a ceasefire as soon as possible," he said. "The ceasefire should be used to work towards a sustainable peace and a political solution to this war—it's the only way to truly end this humanitarian catastrophe."
Save the Children's new figures came as Mwatana for Human Rights released a report on U.S. drone strikes and other attacks on Yemen between January 2017 and January 2019, which killed at least 38 Yemeni civilians, including 13 children.
Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden has made some moves to lessen U.S. contributions to Yemeni suffering—temporarily freezing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition "offensive operations" in Yemen, and reversing the Trump administration's designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization.
This proposal offered little new. Its terms are an attempt to pretend like Saudi can negotiate from a position of strength. But after years of airstrikes/blockades, they're on the verge of losing. This offer is totally disconnected from reality.https://t.co/geAhIZau7T
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— Erik Sperling #YemenCantWait (@ErikSperling) March 24, 2021
Progressive U.S. lawmakers have called on the president to go further—specifically by pressuring Saudi Arabia to end its yearslong blockade of food, medicine, and other essentials. As Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a longtime critic of U.S. involvement in the war, said last month: "Our work to support a brighter future for the people of Yemen is just beginning."
Bolstering calls for working toward peace, U.N. agencies warned in February that nearly 2.3 million Yemeni children under age five are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year and 400,000 could die if they do not receive urgent treatment.
The Saudi-led bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, after the Houthis took control of northern parts of the country—including the capital, Sana'a. The war has killed about 130,000 people, including 12,000 civilians, according to Deutsche Welle.
Al Jazeera reported Monday that the coalition has recently "carried out dozens of air raids" on Houthi targets, including the Salif grains port and living quarters of a food production company. The Houthi-controlled ministry of commerce and industry said that attacking the port of Salif on the Red Sea—officially a neutral zone under the 2018 U.N.-brokered Stockholm Agreement—was part of "economic warfare against the Yemeni people."
Yemen is already enduring a famine.
If conditions do not improve the UN estimates 400,000 children will die of starvation.
Despite that, the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition just bombed a grain port, further straining Yemen's food supply. https://t.co/1QcWESA6JY
— jordan (@JordanUhl) March 24, 2021
Gabriella Waaijman, global humanitarian director for Save the Children, warned Wednesday that "without urgent action, the humanitarian situation, already the worst in the world, is set to deteriorate further with the very real risk of famine, mass civilian casualties, and total collapse of basic services."
"This is a man-made disaster resulting from a conflict that is being waged with near complete disregard for the well-being and safety of the civilian population," Waaijman continued. "Almost every day we hear of children and families caught up in the fighting, often paying with their lives."
"If the U.N.'s predictions are correct, the worst famine in decades could kill hundreds of thousands of children," she said. "We must do everything we can to prevent this from happening."