More than 500 children have lost their lives, over 700 have been wounded, and a staggering 1.7 million are now facing the risk of malnutrition in Yemen as “unremitting” violence in the country takes its toll, the United Nations said, in a statement released Friday. The conflict in Yemen -- which has pitted the Shiite Houthi rebels against the now-exiled government led by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi -- has only escalated since the start of Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes in March.
“With every day that passes, children see their hopes and dreams for the future shattered,” Julien Harneis, Unicef’s representative in Yemen, said in the statement. “Their homes, schools and communities are being destroyed, and their own lives are increasingly threatened by disease and malnutrition.”
Food shortage caused by the protracted conflict has, the U.N. agency said, tripled the number of children below five years at risk of severe acute malnutrition. The number now stands at 537,000, compared to 160,000 before the conflict. A total of 10 million children, comprising 80 percent of the country’s under-18 population, now need urgent humanitarian attention.
“Meanwhile, the last six months have seen a growing number of attacks on civilians and vital infrastructure,” the U.N. agency said. “Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, Unicef has verified attacks on or damage to 41 schools and 61 hospitals as a result of the fighting.”
The conflict in Yemen, which has been overshadowed by the fighting in Syria and Iraq, is largely being seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has allegedly provided support -- and even arms -- to the Houthis.
Although both sides in the conflict have been accused of killing civilians and committing human rights abuses, Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes have been blamed for most of the civilian casualties. Earlier this week, an airstrike by the coalition warplanes mistakenly targeted a wedding party in Yemen’s central Taiz province, killing 131 people, including several children.
In addition, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers has also sharply increased.
“When you compare 2015 and 2014, it has actually quadrupled,” Unicef spokesman Christof Boulierac reportedly said. “In 2014, 156 children were confirmed to have been recruited in armed groups, whereas in 2015, at least until now, the number has already reached 606 verified cases, according to monitoring and reporting mechanism.”