Living with a host family in the capital Sanaa, Hamid al-Dhahiri never thinks about returning to his home village in Saada Province where fighting between the army and Houthi rebels claimed the lives of his wife and two of his six children on 14 August.
“I fled… just to save the lives of the rest of my children and help them continue their education,” al-Dhahiri said. “The war has forced my two elder sons Osama and Aiman to drop out of school… and destroyed our home and farmland.”
Children have been deeply affected by the conflict and would continue to feel its impact for many years to come, Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, country representative for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen, said. UNICEF is seeking US$6.1 million to meet the needs of war-affected women and children.
"The international community needs to rally together to help all those children who have little if any access to food, health, education and protection," he said, adding: “UNICEF is focusing on the provision of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in the camps and in scattered dwellings to reduce the risk of outbreaks of contagious diseases.”
Close to 75,000 children are directly affected. Many are traumatized and need special psycho-social help, according to Nasim Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at UNICEF.
Normal life for children has been disrupted. “In a situation of conflict, poor families are forced to flee from their dwellings and lose their income sources,” Ur-Rehman told IRIN. “Children become part of the coping strategy and support their families in whatever way they can… they fetch water and collect wood, meaning that their education gets disrupted.”
In Saada Province, nearly 60 percent of children are malnourished, and therefore run the great risk of suffering irreversible damage if nutritional screening is not done, Ur-Rehman warned, also noting the risk of water-borne diseases.
He said UNICEF was working closely with NGOs and trained nutrition workers from the Ministry of Health to screen children for stunting, wasting and acute malnutrition, and the worst affected would get ready-to-use therapeutic food.
The number of school-aged children among internally displaced persons (IDPs) is estimated at 55,000, he said, adding: “To ensure that these children’s schooling is not interrupted by fighting, UNICEF will set up learning spaces, distribute learning materials and train teachers. Some $1.25 million has been requested for education programmes.”
Lack of access
Limited humanitarian access to all districts in Saada Province has undermined children’s ability to access quality education and healthcare, said Fatma al-Ajel, communications and advocacy officer at Save the Children. “Only one third of boys in war-affected areas went to school last year and this rate is much lower among girls.”
“More than half of the displaced children are displaying symptoms of ARI [acute respiratory infection] and scabies. Lack of access to hygiene is apparent among almost all those children,” she noted.
The new school year begins after Ramadan (19 September) and displaced children are at a higher risk of dropping out of school, said Mansour Radman, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Education.
Local NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection (SOCP) warned of a humanitarian catastrophe for uprooted children, who make up over 50 percent of the total number of IDPs.
“Of those displaced children, 70 percent are females,” SOCP chairman Ahmad al-Qurashi told IRIN. “They are experiencing miserable conditions living in IDP camps or with host families… they are paying the price for the escalating clashes in Saada.”
Photo: Save the Children
|Uprooted children are prone to water-borne diseases due to a lack of clean water and sanitation|
A field study conducted by SOCP in 2008 found that 54.3 percent of 1,100 surveyed children in Saada suffered or had nightmares after witnessing clashes in their schools or villages.
According to the study, 35.3 percent of the surveyed children had demonstrated aggressive behaviour towards their peers or relatives, 22 percent had thought about dropping out of school because of poverty and poor living conditions, and 21.6 percent were prone to bed-wetting or unconscious urination.
SOCP recommended that concerned local and international organizations provide rehabilitation programmes for the war-affected children, accelerate the reconstruction of schools damaged by the fighting, and create a safe environment for boys and girls in which to continue their education.
Photo: Save the Children
|Displaced children need friendly spaces to play|
Since 25 August, Save the Children has established a Child Friendly Space (CFS) in Al Masraq IDP camp in Hajja Province, and is in the process of establishing another two CFSs in Khaiwan IDP camp in Amran, al-Ajel told IRIN. “CFSs aim to treat children’s psycho-social problems, protect them from violence and help them exercise their basic rights.”
The CFS in Hajja proved to have positive impacts on children and their families, said Andro More, director of Save the Children, who visited IDPs in Amran and Hajja in the last week of August. “Now, displaced children are happy playing in this friendly space, which is free of risks.”
According to Ur-Rehman, UNICEF will work together with local partners to protect separated children and unaccompanied minors in camps, provide displaced children with psycho-social support, raise awareness about the threats children face in emergency situations and promote birth registration for displaced children.