The three-and-a-half-year war in Yemen has left more than 16,000 civilian casualties most of whom were children. Death is not the only threat for children in Yemen. Here are the challenges for Yemeni children.

Mourners attend the funeral of people, mainly children, killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in northern Yemen, in Saada, Yemen. August 13, 2018.
Mourners attend the funeral of people, mainly children, killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on a bus in northern Yemen, in Saada, Yemen. August 13, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

There are millions of people who have been facing death everyday in Yemen asking, “What have we done to the United States that they help Saudi Arabia to constantly bomb us?”

Hollywood actor Jim Carrey was among the first few people who sought an answer to such questions, following a US-backed Saudi coalition air strike that targeted a school bus and killed 44 children in Yemen three weeks ago

It, obviously, wasn’t the first of its kind, but just one of more than 50 air strikes that hit civilian vehicles so far this year. 

Only one week after the school bus attack, 22 more children and four women were killed in another Saudi air strike, again with US-provided weapons, while they were trying to flee fighting in the south port city of Hudaida.

The conflict poses a grave danger to Yemen's next generation with several factors contributing to the dire situation.

Death

More than 6,000 children have been killed or injured in the violence as a result of attacks by the US-backed Saudi coalition, said the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). 

The number means an average of about five children have been killed every day since the conflict began, according to UNICEF.

The psychological impact of the conflict has also been devastating for children. 

"Based on a sample study of 150 children attending Save the Children Child Friendly Spaces or participating in our mine risk education sessions in Aden and Lahj governorates, 70 percent were assessed to have symptoms associated with distress and trauma, including anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of sadness, lack of concentration and low problem-solving skills," said a report by the Save the Children

Constant bombings by the Saudi-led coalition air strikes cause most of the casualties, but land mines and ground clashes also cause high numbers of child casualties. 

Malnutrition

Malnutrition is one of the major problems in Yemen, where it is seen in record numbers. 

Children in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, have been facing acute malnutrition since the beginning of a three-and-a-half-year war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi movement.

Harsh conditions of malnutrition threaten a quarter of the 28 million population in Yemen with a million children under the age of 5 severely malnourished, according to the WHO

It added that 500,000 children were suffering from severe acute malnutrition. 

“The heartbreaking scenes of malnourished children in Yemen signal the catastrophic consequences of the conflict. I’ve seen children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications who really need special care and well-trained medical personnel,” said Dr Nevio Zagaria, WHO Representative in Yemen.

Farms and agricultural industry of Yemen have several times came under air bombardment, worsening the already bad conditions the country has been facing. 

In a late 2016 story, Robert Fisk of the Independent wrote that those attacks were not random incidents, but deliberate targets by the coalition war planes. 

“In fact, there is substantial evidence emerging that the Saudis and their “coalition” allies – and, I suppose, those horrid British “advisers” – are deliberately targeting Yemen’s tiny agricultural sector in a campaign which, if successful, would lead a post-war Yemeni nation not just into starvation but total reliance on food imports for survival,” he wrote. 

Collapsed health service 

Preventable diseases are one of the leading causes of death among children as the health service in Yemen is almost collapsed. 

Unicef said that as many as 66,000 Yemeni children under the age of five die every year from preventable diseases. 

Half of them die during childbirth or in the first month of their life and others die from diarrhea and pneumonia, said Meritxell Relano, UNICEF resident representative in Yemen.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said, in annual report 2017 Yemen, more than 16 million people lacked access to health services as 50 percent of the health facilities are closed or partially functioning. 

Due to clashes and air strikes by the Saudi-led air strikes, 278 health facilities have been destroyed or partially damaged, said the report. 

Right to education

Nearly half a million children have dropped out of school since the 2015 escalation of conflict in Yemen, bringing the total number of out-of-school children to 2 million, said the UNICEF. 

The number means more than a quarter of Yemeni children and those who can still go to school face unhealthy establishments where very often there are no bathrooms or places for recreation.

Moreover, travelling to schools in Yemen is also a problem for Yemeni children as their schools have been targets for strikes from armed groups. 

Children risk being killed on their way to school. Fearing for their children's safety, many parents choose to keep their children at home.

“More than 2,500 schools are out of use, with two-thirds damaged by attacks, 27 percent closed and seven percent used for military purposes or as shelters for displaced people,” said the UN

As a result of all the threats to children and to education centres, an entire generation of children in Yemen face a bleak future. 

The lack of access to education has pushed children and families to dangerous alternatives, including early marriage, child labour and recruitment into the fighting, the UN concluded. 

Attempts to stop the war in Yemen have failed every time as regional and global powers fail to reach a consensus regarding the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the fate of the Houthis who've been fighting to unseat the ruling dispensation. 

Why is there a war in Yemen?

North and south Yemen united into a single state in 1990, but internal splits in the country never allowed a full unification. 

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh had ruled northern Yemen since 1978 and the unified state after 1990. But he alienated many Yemenis. His relatives controlled core parts of the army and economy, and critics said corruption was rife.

In the late 1990s, Shia Yemenis in the far north formed a group, the Houthis, which fought Saleh’s army and grew friendly with Iran. 

Following the mass protests in the 2011 so-called Arab Spring, the Yemeni army split between units loyal to Saleh and those against him. 

After Saleh stepped down, deputy president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was elected in 2012 to a two-year term to oversee a democratic transition.

Hadi was arrested by Houthis in early 2015, but he escaped and fled to Saudi Arabia, which entered the war on Hadi’s side. 

Who is fighting whom?

The war in Yemen took a dramatic turn in December when Houthis killed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's toppled ex-president, punishing him for switching sides and seeking peace with the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition forces consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait and led by Saudi Arabia began air bombardment on Yemen on March 25 to halt the advance of Houthis. 

Iran has been accused of sending weapons to Yemen’s Houthis years before their uprising started in the country. 

Tehran, on the other hand, denies accusations of intervening in Yemen, and has accused Saudi Arabia of aggression in Yemen since the start of the air campaign in the country.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are historically foes, and the war in Yemen is seen as a proxy war between the two states. 

When the subject is Iran in Yemen’s war, it isn’t hard to guess who the United States would support in terms of political and military aid. 

Amnesty International and other campaigners have denounced Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies in the deadly conflict in Yemen.

The United States stands as the biggest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, with a fresh arms deal worth $110 billion made during President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh in June, 2017.

Since March 2015, the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia has left 16,200 civilians dead, most of whom were children and women, according to the estimated number by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a global conflict tracker.  

More than 2 million people have been displaced in Yemen, where more than 20 million others live under dire need of assistance, according to the United Nations

Source: TRTWorld and agencies