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UNICEF in Yemen, trying to balance the bad news

If you’ve heard about Yemen at all recently, the news likely hasn’t been good. Two suicide bombings last month-likely the work of Al-Qaeda-killed 25 people in the north and terrified a region already battered by unrest. Despite a ceasefire, clashes between militants and government forces in the northern region of Sa’ada continue to displace thousands of people. And last year’s thwarted Christmas day underwear bomber received training in Yemen.

If you’ve heard about Yemen at all recently, the news likely hasn’t been good. Two suicide bombings last month–likely the work of Al-Qaeda–killed 25 people in the north and terrified a region already battered by unrest. Despite a ceasefire, clashes between militants and government forces in the northern region of Sa’ada continue to displace thousands of people. And last year’s thwarted Christmas day underwear bomber received training in Yemen.

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UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2103/Jean-Baptiste Lopez
In October 2010 in Yemen, a UNICEF-supported screening revealed alarmingly high rates of child malnutrition. Here, a boy’s height is measured to assess his nutrition status at Najid Al-Jumai Health Clinic.

But if I learned one thing when I lived in the Middle East, it’s that the story is always more complicated than what you see in the news. For every individual that would wish harm to the U.S. or his own countrymen, there are hundreds of thousands who just want to live a quiet peaceful family life, with health and education for their children.

Unfortunately, conflict can get in the way of that very simple dream. In Sa’ada, conflict has not only displaced families, it’s led to severe food shortages. Right now, nearly 1/3 of the children there suffer from acute malnutrition. And with security so bad, it’s been too dangerous for aid organizations to get children enough therapeutic foods to fully combat the malnutrition.

Imagine not having enough food for your children. Fearing every day for their safety. Wondering whether you’ll have to flee your home if the fighting breaks out in your village. And if you do have to flee, will you and your kids be able to get far when you’re so weak from malnutrition?

UNICEF has a long history of working on behalf of children in Yemen, and we’re currently running programs throughout the country to help provide children with therapeutic food, safe drinking water, school facilities and supplies, safe spaces, psychosocial support, medicines and immunizations, protection and rights. In fact, there are way too many initiatives at present to mention here. But just to give you a small sense: in October, UNICEF and partners launched a massive Back to School initiative to help 500,000 children-including refugees, internally displaced and other war-affected children-back into the classroom.

At the same time, UNICEF supported a week-long campaign to immunize 1.7 million women of child-bearing age against maternal and neonatal tetanus. Also, in a country where 3/4 of women deliver children outside of a health facility, UNICEF is helping to organize and fund training of community midwives.

Yemen is still (as I wrote a little over a year ago) an incredibly rough place to be a child. But we’re doing our best to improve their odds–and their lives.

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