By Heba Kanso
BEIRUT, Jan 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Fighting in Yemen has forced more than half a million children from their homes in the past six months alone, aid groups said on Thursday, warning of a lost generation of young people.
Most fled during a major military offensive on the key port of Hodeidah in July and August and all now face a "bleak" future, with no access to education and an increased risk of disease and hunger, the UN children's agency said.
"We are losing a generation — many children are losing on their education, and displacement makes it worse," Meritxell Relano, Yemen director for UNICEF told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the capital Sanaa.
"Without education they will not be able to find jobs ... a generation that is not educated has a very bleak future."
About 2 million children in Yemen are now out of school after a nearly four-year-long war that has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the country to the verge of starvation, according to the United Nations.
The charity Save the Children said that despite a lull in fighting, thousands of families were still streaming out of Hodeidah fearing renewed conflict and many were struggling to afford basic items like food, fuel and medicine.
"Children forced to flee their homes often have to live in unsanitary and cramped conditions in camps or host communities with little access to clean drinking water or nutritious food," said spokesman Bhanu Bhatnagar.
Children are at risk of malnutrition, diarrhea, cholera, and diphtheria — a disease that spreads as easily as the common cold. Bhatnagar said 89% of Yemenis whose deaths were linked to diphtheria were children under 14.
The conflict pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi group against Yemeni forces backed by an Arab coalition loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Houthis control Hodeidah while other Yemeni factions backed by the coalition trying to restore the internationally recognized government are massed on its outskirts.
Their failure to pull troops from the port city under a month-old truce, has revived the threat of an all-out assault on Hodeidah that could unleash famine.
(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)