Yemen's children are suffering a man-made health catastrophe

Yemen's children are suffering a man-made health catastrophe
Comment: A deadly combination of cholera, hunger and child recruitment is plaguing the Yemen's future generation, writes Khalid al-Karimi.
4 min read
20 Jul, 2017
At least 1,700 people have died of cholera Yemen since April this year [AFP]
In countries where peace is the norm, children can go to schools or parks, or they can stay in their homes peacefully. This is a daily routine. When they fall ill, they are hurried to a health centre for medical care.

But the children of Yemen do not enjoy such luxuries. Instead, they have been experiencing the cruellest of circumstances since 2015, when the civil strife began its whirlwind of violence. Today, the war has little concern for child rights, and Yemeni children face misery up and down the country.

Today, three separate afflictions are plaguing Yemen's children: The cholera epidemic, malnourishment and child recruitment. The two-and-a-half-year war has either created or exacerbated these plights. Military escalations have dwarfed all peace efforts, and as a result, the situation for children is deteriorating.  

When a child is born in Yemen, she or he may die due to malnutrition or lack of basic medicine. On leaving the house, they risk not returning home, and boys are routinely taken to the frontline after being brainwashed.

Cholera: Preventable and lethal

Cholera is a lethal disease, and since April of this year, at least 1,700 people have died of it Yemen. A quarter of the deaths are children, according to UN statements. In addition, almost half of suspected cholera cases are in children.

As the epidemic escalates, parties to the conflict are expending the bulk of their resources on military operations. While cholera can be treated easily, cases of the disease have spiralled out of control.

International humanitarian organisations continue to issue alarming statements about the steady rise in the epidemic, and 22 provinces are now reported to have cholera.   

Two-thirds of the population do not have access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation

Health experts attribute the rising number of cholera victims to poor sanitation and the lack of safe drinking water. Reports have pointed out that two-thirds of the population does not have access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation.

While this should not be an insurmountable challenge, the war has blinded the country's leaders, making them see nothing is of value beyond the frontlines.

Boys in Yemen are at risk of being lured or forced into joining the front lines [AFP]

As such, this tragedy will carry on unfolding in several areas, unless the relevant authorities step up measures to combat the spread of disease, which the UN has described as the "worst cholera outbreak in the world".

Children will continue suffering from this man-made health catastrophe powerlessly and silently. 


Many children and families around Yemen go to bed hungry each night, and the food shortage is contributing to the country's ailing health.

Read more: Yemen banks in Aden go on strike after surge in armed robberies

Earlier this month, Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said "The average person lives on tea and bread. It's just one meal a day. They are in a weakened state, and that is why they are getting sick."

The United Nations has stated it needs $2.1 billion for its work in Yemen this year, highlighting that although it is attempting to increase aid to the victims, it is unable to de-escalate the crisis.

Children on the battlefield

More able-bodied children have been attracted the frontlines in Yemen. Aged 14, 15, or younger - as long as they can carry a gun and know how to pull the trigger - many have been lured or forced onto the battlefield.

In a report released earlier this year, UN agencies had documented nearly 1,500 cases of children recruited by all parties to the conflict since March 2015.

Recruitment of children under the age of 15 amounts to a war crime; just another of the laws routinely breached since the beginning of the conflict.

The fighting has turned Yemen into a prison where children die every day in every city. It is time the warring sides took stock of the country's children, and of its future as a nation.


Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.