24 May 2017

Yemen's orphans face 'catastrophe' as fighting rages

KONFRONTASI-Hundreds of Yemeni orphans may be forced onto the streets due to a lack of government funding, the head of the country's largest orphanage has said.

The Dar Ri'ayat al-Aytam orphanage in Sanaa has been struggling with a lack of funds since Houthi rebels captured the capital in autumn 2014, and the situation has worsened in recent months. 

Abdullah al-Hindi, the head of the orphanage, said that almost two years of war had decimated the economy, and there have been severe cuts to public spending.

"The orphanage is at threat of closure and the children could face loss and displacement unless there are immediate solutions from National Salvation Government and well-wishers," he told the Reuters news agency.

The National Salvation Government was formed by the Houthis and elements loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in early October to assert control over large swathes of territory they control.

"If more money isn't made available soon the orphanage will close and some of Yemen's most vulnerable children will be homeless," al-Hindi added.

Fadel al-Qahtani, a child living at the orphanage, spoke of dire conditions, adding that on most nights, the more than 800 children housed there would go hungry.  

"We used to have complete meals, including stew, fruit and meat - there were even extras to go around. But now, we don't get anything other than rice," he said.

According to figures released last month by UNICEF, on average one child dies every 10 minutes due to preventable diseases such as malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

More than 2.2 million children are in need of urgent care, and at least 462,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition - a drastic increase of about 200 percent since before the war.

An Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign to drive back the Houthis in March 2015. Since then, more than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and more than three million displaced, the UN says.

The coalition has been blamed for several attacks on medical centres, including some run by international aid group MSF, schools, factories and homes in the past 22 months, which have killed scores of civilians.

The Houthis have besieged Yemen's second largest city, Taiz, for 22 months, and have been blamed for shortages of food, water and medicines. They have also been accused of recruiting hundreds of child soldiers. 

"The situation gets worse every day," Rajeh al-Aqabi, a teacher at the orphanage said.

"If nothing is done to help we will have a catastrophe on our hands - for us, for others, for the whole country."[mr/aje]

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