By Robin Gomes
As women are dying every 2 hours in Yemen, and with more than one million pregnant women facing malnutrition, UNFPA, the United Nations agency for improving reproductive and maternal health worldwide is appealing for peace and support.
“Yemeni women and adolescent girls are bearing the brunt of six long years of grinding conflict, made unimaginably worse by Covid-19 and now the threat of famine,” said UNFPA director-general Dr. Natalia Kane at the conclusion of a 3-day visit to the war-torn country.
Toll on women and girls
More than half of the 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen are women and girls.
“I am deeply concerned about the safety and reproductive health of women and girls in Yemen,” Kanem said. “More than one million pregnant women are at risk of acute malnutrition; this number could double if we do not take urgent action.”
Visiting a UNFPA-aided hospital in Aden, Kanem realized she realized the toll the war has taken. “I’ve been in many maternity wards, and they are usually a place of joy. But in Yemen, I witnessed the devastation of malnutrition and hunger, with newborn babies on feeding tubes and mothers weakened by fear and exhaustion,” said the UNFPA Chief.
Every two hours, a woman dies from complications of pregnancy in the country. For pregnant women, severe malnutrition makes the process of giving birth even more life-threatening. Many women cannot get to hospitals for the care they need due to lack of transport and long distances. Only 20 percent of functional health facilities provide maternal and child health services.
“It is heartbreaking to see fellow members of the human family in such dire conditions. I call on world leaders to respond urgently, work in solidarity, and stop this needless suffering and save lives,” Kanem said.
UNFPA is a long-standing partner in Yemen, providing more than half of all health facilities with the essential life-saving medicines to support women’s health, including maternal health.
Violence, mental health
During a conflict, risks of gender-based violence increase along with harmful practices. In Aden, Kanem also visited a women’s shelter, which one of the 8 shelters and 51 safe places for girls and women that are supported by the UN agency in the country.
“I spoke to young girls and pregnant women who had to flee for their lives and seek protection in UNFPA sites, which are among the very few safe spaces for women and girls,” she said.
Six years of conflict have taken a heavy toll on the mental health of Yemenis, especially women and girls who are disproportionately affected by the crisis. An estimated 1 in 5 people suffer from mental health disorders, according to a 2017 study. However, mental healthcare remains scarce.
Kanem said she was struck by the resilience of Yemeni women who despite the horrors, are still looking forward to a better future. She said, “The women and girls of Yemen deserve peace. For too long, they have been caught up in a conflict that is not of their making. Their very survival depends upon increased international support and funding. The world must act now to save the lives of innocent civilians.
An intractable war
The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country erupted when the Shia-led Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014, which sent the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi fleeing to exile. Since March 25, 2015, a Western-backed Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been fighting the Houthis.
In the latest effort to end the 6-year war, Saudi Arabia on March 22 offered the Houthis a nationwide cease-fire saying it would ease air and sea blockade. The rebels said the offer provides nothing “serious or new” and want the complete lifting of the blockade on areas controlled by them, including the airport in the capital, Sanaa, and the western port of Hodeida.
The Houthis said on Friday they had attacked Saudi energy and military sites with 18 armed drones, and the kingdom’s energy ministry reported a strike on a petroleum products distribution station, causing a fire.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused what the United Nations says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with millions facing famine. (Source: UNFPA)