Children in the heart of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster need help more than ever, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday, in an appeal for more support to provide basic services in Yemen.
More than eight million people in the war-torn country, nearly half of them children, directly depend on the agency for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), amid ongoing conflict, cholera outbreaks and the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, UNICEF reported that its $479 million appeal for Yemen is less than 40 per cent funded. Unless it receives $30 million by the end of the month, WASH operations for four million people will have to be shut down.
“This means UNICEF will not be able to provide fuel to operate water pumping stations, or de-sludge sewage, or maintain crumbling water and sanitation infrastructure”, said Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for the agency.
“It means we will not be able to distribute basic family hygiene kits that include soap, which is so critical for preventing both cholera and COVID in a context where millions don’t have access to handwashing facilities.”
Keeping WASH services up and running is critical, particularly as Yemen battles ongoing cholera and diarrhoea epidemics.
More than 137,000 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the year; nearly a quarter of them among children under five.
UNICEF’s COVID-19 response is also underfunded.
The agency needs $53 million to continue activities that include training and equipping frontline workers on infection and control, sustaining essential maternal and child health services, and providing health facilities with testing kits, oxygen concentrators, and personal protection equipment (PPE).
Five years of fighting between Yemeni government forces, backed by international allies, and rebels known as Ansar Allah, have left roughly two-thirds of the population, or more than 24 million people, reliant on aid relief. International donors this month announced $1.35 billion in pledges for the country. So far, nearly half, or $637 million, has been paid, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said on Friday.
Yemen recorded its first case of COVID-19 in April. By this week, there were more than 560 cases, including 130 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
OCHA described the case fatality rate – nearly 25 per cent – as “alarmingly high”.
Reports continue to indicate that many more people are symptomatic and are dying with COVID-19-like symptoms.
Yemenis suffering mild and moderate symptoms are only seeking healthcare when they are critically ill, probably due to fear of stigma, safety concerns and inability to access testing.
Meanwhile, humanitarians continue to scale up COVID-19 response.
Priorities are centred around community engagement campaigns aimed at suppressing virus transmission, and on procuring and distributing medical supplies and equipment.