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Yemen the young women and men behind the headlines

Yemen: the young women and men behind the headlines

Two memories stand out from my time in Yemen back in 2011 and 2012: the welcoming nature of its people and the energy and compassion of its youth.

Even then, before the war broke out, Yemen was the most impoverished country in the Middle East.

What I witnessed and remember, however, was young women and men volunteering to fix schools and clean up the streets, as well as communities opening their arms to refugees escaping the humanitarian crisis in Somalia across the Gulf of Aden.

I was often invited into strangers’ homes for tea and during Ramadan, my neighbours insisted on having me over for iftar (the break of fast).

Millions in need of humanitarian assistance

Since the war started in Yemen in 2015, three million people have been displaced and an estimated 22.2 million people are in need of humanitarian or protection assistance.

Widespread damage to public infrastructure, and a severe shortage of essential supplies, means the majority of Yemenis are surviving without food, water or medicine, and aid and commercial goods are still not arriving at a level that can meet the scale of the current catastrophe.

As a result, UNICEF estimates that at least one child under the age of five dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in Yemen.

Daily life in a camp for internally displaced people in Yemen
Daily life in a camp for internally displaced people in Yemen ©Azzam al-Zubairi

Conflicts like the one in Yemen also amplify and increase gender inequality, and the impact disproportionally hits adolescent girls

Girls in conflict settings are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, and our experience on the ground shows that the majority of those chronically hungry around the world are girls and women. 

Our research also shows that, even when the international community is willing and able to respond, adolescents affected by emergencies are often left behind. 

This knowledge informs our work in the Disaster Risk Management Unit, as we support communities around the world to prepare for and respond to disasters and crises.

From sharing our expertise on coping with climate change, to developing child protection services for unaccompanied minors and reviewing the curriculum for education in emergency programmes, we adapt to the needs of communities on the ground, reinforcing local systems and remaining engaged in all aspects of the disaster cycle, from the time of crisis through to long-term recovery.

And while Plan International doesn’t currently work in Yemen, we are joining 13 other UK aid agencies in demanding action is taken to end the current humanitarian crisis, and to ensure the voices of all those affected, including girls and young women, aren’t forgotten.

Young people on the front line

It has been six years since I was last in Yemen. 

I often remember the young people I met there and was afraid to think what might have happened to them – but a couple of weeks ago, I reached out to one of the youths I had the privilege of working with back in Aden.

He reluctantly mentioned that some of the young people I knew are no longer with us – then after a short pause, he continued: ‘but many of them are now in the front lines, saving lives and helping people.’

Plan International UK has come together with 13 UK aid agencies to demand action to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. Read our joint letter to the Telegraph and share your support using #YemenCantWait on Twitter, Facebook  and Instagram.

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