Yemeni children face deadly hunger and aid shortages as Coronavirus pandemic spreads - UNICEF

Number of malnourished children could reach 2.4 million by end of year, a 20 per cent increase

Home > Media Contacts and Press Releases > Yemeni children face deadly hunger and aid shortages as Coronavirus pandemic spreads

  • Spokespeople in Yemen available for interview
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26 June 2020 – Millions of children in Yemen could be pushed to ‘the brink of starvation’ due to huge shortfalls in humanitarian aid funding amid the Coronavirus pandemic – according to a new UNICEF report marking more than five years since conflict escalated in the country.

Yemen five years on: Children, conflict and COVID-19 warns that as Yemen’s devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably. The report shows that:

  • An additional 30,000 children could develop life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next six months, and the overall number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to a total of 2.4 million –almost half of all under-fives in the country and a rise of around 20 per cent;
  • An additional 6,600 children under the age of five could die from preventable causes by the end of the year – an increase of 28 per cent*;
  • The health system is teetering closer to collapse. After years of conflict, only half of health facilities are operational, with huge shortages in medicine, equipment and staff;
  • Poor access to water and sanitation is stoking the spread of Coronavirus. Around 9.58 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene.
  • With schools closed, 7.8 million children are not able to access education.
  • Widespread absence from class and a worsening economy could put children at greater risk of child labour, recruitment into armed groups and child marriage. The United Nations has recorded 3,467 children, some as young as ten years old, recruited and used by armed forces and groups over the last five years.

“UNICEF has worked tirelessly to maintain health and education services throughout the crisis in Yemen, but we are gravely concerned the Coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating an already desperate situation, putting vulnerable children at even greater risk,” said Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director of Unicef UK.

“As the UK Government prepares to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, it must continue to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable children by protecting essential funding that saves children’s lives. Without continued investment in child and maternal health, Coronavirus could reverse a decade of progress on ending preventable child deaths and put children in countries like Yemen at even greater risk.”

The report warns that unless US$54.5 million is received for health and nutrition services by the end of August:

  • 23,500 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at increased risk of dying;
  • Up to one million children will not receive vital micronutrient supplements and vitamin A, and 500,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers will miss out on essential nutrition support including counselling on infant and young child feeding, and folic acid and iron supplements;
  • Five million children under the age of five years will not be immunised against killer diseases;
  • 19 million people will lose access to healthcare, including one million pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and their children;

“We cannot overstate the scale of this emergency as children, in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, battle for survival as COVID-19 takes hold,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Representative to Yemen. “If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die. The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children in a nation devastated by conflict, disease and economic collapse, simply do not matter.”

The report also highlights that crucial water and sanitation services for three million children and their communities will begin to shut down from the end of July, unless US$45 million is secured. This will further negatively impact the more than two million exceptionally vulnerable malnourished children, risking a disastrous decline in their nutrition status if aid supplies are interrupted.

In total UNICEF is appealing for US$461 million for its humanitarian response in Yemen, with an additional US$53 million for its Coronavirus response alone.  So far, the Coronavirus appeal is only ten per cent funded and the humanitarian appeal is only 39 per cent funded.

UNICEF is working with the World Health Organization and the authorities across Yemen to get life-saving aid to children in desperate need, including:

  • Maintaining general health services and humanitarian programmes for children across the country – including providing safe water and sanitation, supporting education and keeping vulnerable children safe from harm;
  • Working to suppress Coronavirus transmission at community level by reaching more than 16 million people with key prevention messages through TV, radio and social media;
  • Procuring, transporting and distributing supplies for the pandemic;
  • Saving lives by training 30,000 health workers in infection prevention and control and distributing thousands of hygiene kits.

“UNICEF is working around the clock in incredibly difficult situations to get aid to children in desperate need, but we only have a fraction of the funding required to do this,” said Nyanti. “Children in Yemen need lasting peace and stability in their country. Until that is achieved, we must do everything we can to save lives and protect childhoods.”

Unicef UK’s Save Generation Covid appeal is supporting children and families impacted by Coronavirus across the world. Visit to donate and help #GenerationCovid. 


Notes to editors: 

* The modelling on children under the age of five who could die from preventable causes referred to in the press release is based on the following study by The Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (JHU): Robertson, Timothy, et al., ‘Early estimates of the indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on maternal and child mortality in low-income and middle-income countries: a modelling study’, The Lancet Global Health, May 2020,  < S2214-109X(20)30229-1>, Accessed 26 May 2020. 

  • The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since World War Two.
  • Children’s lives are being upended. Their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations lost, their food supply cut off.
  • An additional 6,000 children around the world could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services like vaccinations. That’s one every 15 seconds.
  • UNICEF’s “Save Generation Covid” appeal is the largest ever for children in our 73-year history, and we urgently need funds for lifesaving support and services to ensure that children survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.
  • Together we can Save Generation Covid. Visit to donate and help save #generationcovid. 

For more information, please contact:

Alexandra Murdoch, 0207 375 6179,

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030,


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