"The suffering is staggering": 6 Yemeni children killed or wounded daily in U.S.-backed Saudi war; millions face catastrophe

UN report warns the violence and torment Yemen's youth endure amid 1 year of Saudi bombing "shatters their world"

Published March 31, 2016 5:40PM (EDT)

A Yemeni child walks past a house damaged by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 12, 2015  (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)
A Yemeni child walks past a house damaged by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's capital Sanaa on September 12, 2015 (Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

For children in Yemen, "even playing or sleeping has become dangerous," explains Julien Harneis, a representative for the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, in Yemen.

A new report by UNICEF reveals that an average of six Yemeni children have been killed or injured every day over the past 12 months in the ongoing U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war.

"Children are paying the highest price for a conflict not of their making," Harneis continued. "They have been killed or maimed across the country and are no longer safe anywhere in Yemen."

For more than a year as of this week, Saudi Arabia has carried out a bombing campaign in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. The Saudi-led coalition has attacked residential neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, weddings, a refugee camp and even an Oxfam humanitarian aid warehouse.

More than 6,000 Yemenis have been killed in the war, half of whom have been civilians, the U.N. estimates. For months, the U.N. has said the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for approximately two-thirds of civilian casualties.

At least 900 Yemeni children have been killed, and more than 1,300 kids have been injured, according to the new UNICEF report, titled "Children on the Brink."

The U.N. agency documented more than 1,560 incidents of "grave violations" against the youth in Yemen.

"Tragic as they are, these statistics are a tip of the iceberg as they only represent cases that UNICEF was able to verify," the report also made clear, stressing that these figures are conservative.

"Close to 10 million children face fear, pain and deprivation," UNICEF said in its report.

"Children do not start wars, yet are the most vulnerable to their deadly effects."

The U.S. and U.K. have sold the Saudi dictatorship tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons in recent years. The countries also provide intelligence to the Saudi regime, and American and British military officials are even physically in the room with Saudi bombers.

Human rights organizations say the billions of dollars of weapons the U.S. and the U.K. have sold to the Saudi regime have been used to commit war crimes.

"Attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian assistance to children continue to occur," the U.N. agency said.

UNICEF could verify at least 51 attacks on schools and 63 attacks on hospitals and other health facilities. Media reports suggest that more than 100 health facilities have been partially damaged or destroyed. Nearly 600 have stopped working due to damage and shortages.

"With global media and donor attention flitting from one crisis to another, Yemen risks becoming a forgotten crisis," UNICEF continued. "Yet the needs of Yemen’s children are enormous. Almost all of Yemen’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance."

More than 21 million Yemenis, 82 percent of the population — almost half of whom are children — need urgent humanitarian assistance.

At least 2.4 million people (10 percent of the population) have been displaced, half of them children. Most displaced Yemenis live in crowded host communities, share relatives' homes or find shelter in public buildings, under makeshift tents or simply outside.

"The scale of suffering in the country is staggering," UNICEF said. "The violence has forced the majority of Yemenis into destitution."

Before the war even began, nearly half of Yemenis lived in poverty. The war has only made things worse.

"The conflict is deepening poverty and deprivation, keeping children locked in a vicious cycle of violence, loss and uncertainty," noted the U.N. agency.

[caption id="attachment_14452641" align="aligncenter" width="620"](Credit: UNICEF) (Credit: UNICEF)[/caption]

UNICEF cited scientific studies that indicate between three to 15 times as many people die from indirect causes of armed conflict as from direct causes. In Yemen, this appears to hold true.

"These massive needs for urgent, life-saving assistance come at a time when humanitarian and commercial delivery of food and other basic supplies is more challenging and dangerous than ever," UNICEF reported.

Saudi Arabia has maintained a blockade on Yemen for a year as well, and has damaged ports that are important Yemeni import hubs.

Before the war, Yemen imported 90 percent of its staple foods. Now, UNICEF, says, the country has been "cut off from its food pipeline."

UNICEF estimates that 320,000 children in Yemen face severe malnutrition, and 2.2 million youth need urgent humanitarian assistance.

The Saudi blockade has also caused fuel to be "in very short supply, bringing services to a standstill and crippling the economy at a time when the needs of desperate families and children continue to increase."

Another 10.2 million Yemeni children risk going without safe drinking water and sanitation, according to the U.N. agency. Before the war began, Yemen was already one of the world’s most water-scarce countries; now the problem is even worse.

"The entire country now faces a water, sanitation and hygiene emergency," UNICEF reported. And women are the most seriously affected.

More than 14 million Yemenis, including at least 7.4 million children, need health care. And yet "these huge needs come at a time when the health system is on the brink of collapse."

UNICEF estimates that almost 10,000 Yemeni children under the age of five may have died in the past year from preventable diseases.

"Without access to basic and obstetric health care, clean water, sanitation facilities, food and shelter, young children and mothers — the most vulnerable of population groups — will succumb to infectious diseases, other preventable causes of death and malnutrition in far greater numbers than before," UNICEF said.

Another U.N. report released this week shows the enormous impact the war is having on Yemen's women.

The war has left approximately 3.4 million women between the ages 15 and 49 in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost 500,000 women are pregnant and will give birth within the next nine months.

"The lack of reproductive health services and supplies can result in an estimated 1,000 maternal deaths among 68,000 pregnant women who are at risk of life-threatening complications during childbirth," the U.N. said.

UNICEF's "Children on the Brink" report details the hellish reality Yemen's children and women have endured for more than a year.

"Even if children survive the bombs and bullets, the broader impact of violence goes much further and will have an impact for generations to come," the U.N. agency explained.

"Living in violent environments, children experience what no child should witness, the destruction of their homes or the death of their parents, siblings or friends."

Recruitment of children as young as 10 to fight has also exponentially increased in the past year. In its report, UNICEF documented 848 cases.

"Physical dangers lurk everywhere for children. Public buildings, schools, fields and communal areas are littered with mines, unexploded bombs and other remnants of war," UNICEF said.

"The physical and emotional violence to which children in Yemen are exposed shatters their world. Many will carry these heavy emotional burdens into adulthood."

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Saudi Arabia Unicef United Nations War Yemen