BY NY Staff
At a farewell gathering to mark the close of his tenure as UNICEF’s Representative to Yemen, Geert Cappelaere spoke with a group of journalists in Sana’a. Following are Cappelaere’s responses to questions about his time in Yemen.
Q: As you leave Yemen, could you tell us how different Yemen has become from what it was when you arrived?
A: A lot has happened in three years. Yemen has been shaken – including the Yemeni children, who have been tremendously affected. Last year was a very difficult year for the Yemeni people. Hundreds of children died and thousands were wounded as a result of several rounds of armed confrontation and civil unrest. Painfully, malnutrition among children is comparable to the situation in the Sahel and Horn of Africa.
As I leave Yemen, however, there is relative peace and stability in many parts of the country. There is enough security and stability to continue delivering our program for the children. This is not enough, but at least better than last year. We can say that Yemen today is where it was in 2010. Access to social services including health and vaccinations, basic education, water and sanitation has not worsened as well.
An example of significant positive progress for the children of Yemen is that malnutrition has been recognized at the highest levels of authority as a crisis. Yemen has officially been accepted as a member of a global movement to Scale Up Nutrition (SUN), in response to a request from the government of Yemen.
I leave Yemen on a positive note. Yemen has the potential to once again become the Arabia Felix for the children. I have met with the Prime Minister and several ministers as part of my farewell. The transitional political leadership shows strong commitment to thrive for change and support the children of Yemen.
Q: What are the three key messages that you want to communicate through the media?
A: First of all, I would like to stress that I have learnt a lot from the Yemeni people, and last year in particular. I am very much amazed by the solidarity and resilience exhibited by the people of Yemen during the crisis last year. They keep demonstrating high levels of generosity even in hard times. These features represent great potential for Yemen to make it through and flourish.
Second, I would like to communicate two main messages to the transitional political leadership and also to the international community.
For the transitional government, I urge you to keep the children, who represent half of the population of Yemen, at the core of your agenda and at the security, economic and social development levels. Children should be considered during budgeting at central, governorate, and district levels.
My message to the international community is: let’s not repeat the mistake of the past and keep Yemen off the radar. Give Yemen the necessary attention and exercise patience. Change will not happen overnight. Although you need to keep the pressure on different parties to make things happen, you also need to be patient. Another important message is that change should come from within Yemen and from Yemenis themselves. Let me emphasize here that the international community, including the neighboring countries, should maintain support for Yemen by putting the interests of the Yemeni people first, not any other personal interests.