As Yemen enters the seven-year of its war, mothers and women continue to pay the highest price. With more than 20 million people in need of crucial humanitarian assistance, Yemen is suffering greatly. What once was a joyful, celebrated aspect of life’s circle is slowly turning into an absolute death sentence for many vulnerable Yemenise women. Thus, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in Yemen, one woman dies in childbirth every two hours.
A depleted health system
Even under normal circumstances, the journey to motherhood is very hard and tiring. Thus, under the tragic circumstances of this man-made tragedy, vulnerable women barely stand a chance of survival. Not only is the Yemenis health system barely functional, but it is also severely underequipped and lacking. Also, due to the ongoing armed conflict, only fifty percent of all health facilities in Yemen are running.
Moreover, the current coronavirus pandemic only added more wood to the fire. The health system had to dedicate 15 percent of the functional health facilities to treat the infected. Therefore, only 20 percent of these facilities are providing maternal and child health services.
Furthermore, in 2020, 40% of the UNFPA-supported health facilities had to shut down due to inadequate funding. The closure denied almost 1 million women access to critical care and safe childbirth services. Many of the death cases taking place every two hours are preventable in case of health care accessibility, according to UN reports. Additionally, for every woman dying in childbirth, almost 20 other women suffer near-fatal injuries, infections, or life-long disabilities.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, during her recent three-day visit to the country
Severe malnutrition and food insecurity
Food insecurity and malnutrition are harming almost the entire Yemenis population, but pregnant and breastfeeding women are suffering the most. Right now, almost more than 1.2 women are suffering acute malnourishment.
“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,” Dr. Kanem noted. “It is heartbreaking to see fellow members of the human family in such dire conditions.”
Furthermore, with the country standing on famine’s door and no humanitarian funding, the numbers are about to double. Currently, 50,000 people are suffering famine-like conditions, and experts are expecting the numbers to increase by more than 200% within the next year.
“What is happening to the people of Yemen is unimaginably cruel. Aid groups are catastrophically underfunded and overstretched. The parties to this senseless war specialize in producing suffering and the weapon of choice is hunger,” said Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Increase in gender-based violence
During the country’s years of ongoing conflict, women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence has escalated tremendously. As poverty and insecurity increase, so does child marriage. A UNFPA study revealed that 1 in 5 displaced girls, aged 10 to 19, were married in Yemen. Thus, impoverished and poor families are using child marriages as a method of coping with the current situation.
“When I told my father, I do not want to get married, my father and grandmother beat me with a water pipe. They said by getting married I will have a better life”, said Alea, a girl who was forced to marry at age 13. “My life only got worse. My husband started to sell all my jewelry and when I inquired about them, he would beat me. I then ran to my father’s house, but he also beat me and chased me back to my husband. I was left with nowhere to go.”
Furthermore, in 2020, almost 350,000 Yemenis women got deprived of greatly-needed gender-based violence services after the closure of 12 UNFPA-supported safe spaces. According to UN reports, almost 6.1 million Yemenis women and girls require these kinds of services, but barely a few of them are receiving any.
“We not only need funding to sustain services but we urgently need to scale up to save the lives of women and girls,” said Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s Representative in Yemen.