Helping Yemen's Children Heal From the Wounds of War
For over 70 years, UNICEF has been putting children first, working to protect their rights and provide the assistance and services they need to survive and thrive all over the world.
Yemen's civil war has left more than 11 million children — 80 percent of all the children in the country — in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF is on the ground, working with partners to provide protection, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, education and medical care.
"Support from UNICEF and other humanitarian partners is literally saving lives and giving children a glimmer of hope," says Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
On a recent visit to the UNICEF-supported Prostheses and Physiotherapy Center in Aden, Yemen, Cappelaere met children who are recovering from a war they didn't start, but for which they are paying the highest price.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance are a constant threat in Yemen, endangering children's safety at every turn. At the prosthesics center, a welcoming place with games and toys and friendly staff members, injured children are fitted with artificial limbs.
Through the victim assistance project, the children receive free accommodation and transportation for themselves and a guardian for the length of their stay, typically between 12 and 15 days. Children work with physical therapists who help them learn how to use their new prostheses. Progress can be slow, but the children are eager and determined. In 2018, 98 children received treatment at the center.
"Since the beginning of this brutal war in Yemen in 2015, every single year more than 2,000 children have been killed in the conflict or have been injured for life," says Cappelaere. "These figures say a lot, but they don't even tell half of the reality that children have been facing."
"Only when engaging with the children directly does one realize how numerous and deep the scars are," says Cappelaere. "Behind the numbers, there are children with names, faces, families, friends, stories, shattered dreams and lives cut short.
"Zakaria, a 12-year-old boy I met at the rehabilitation center, was herding his goats when he stepped on a landmine and was maimed for life. He was wondering if he would ever see his favorite goat again.
"Alia, who is nine, [above, with Cappelaere] was sleeping when her house came under attack. She woke up in hospital without her legs. Alia is dreaming of becoming a doctor."
"Yemen today is the largest humanitarian operation for UNICEF in the world," says Cappelaere. "To continue responding to children's needs, UNICEF requires more than half a billion dollars for its operations in 2019. But humanitarian assistance alone is not the solution to this enormous man-made crisis. The only way out of this mayhem is through a man-made political settlement and massive re-investment in Yemen with children at the center."
UNICEF and partners are working tirelessly in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Bangladesh and around the world to save and protect children. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world.
Photo at top: Yemeni children injured by landmines and air strikes receive medical care and physical therapy at the UNICEF-sponsored Prostheses and Physiotherapy Center in Aden, Yemen in December 2018. All photos © Ahmed Abdulhaleem for UNICEF