October 30, 2018 / 8:05 PM / 14 days ago

UK could save 'a generation' with fund to pay Yemeni doctors and teachers - aid official

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain should create a fund to enable doctors and teachers in war-torn Yemen - many of whom have not been paid for two years - to do their jobs, a senior aid official said on Tuesday.

Jan Egeland, a former United Nations aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), called on British lawmakers to save lives by ensuring that critical Yemeni public sector workers remain in their posts.

“I’d really like to see a UK initiative to untangle the payment of salaries to health workers – nurses and doctors - I’d also add teachers,” Egeland told British parliamentarians.

“It’s not rocket science to get a trust fund up and running to give salaries to all of these public workers.”

Yemen has been caught up in a proxy-war between Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran, which has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced millions and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation.

After nearly four years of war, Yemen’s health sector has been badly battered, while a struggle over the central bank has left public sector salaries for doctors and sanitation workers unpaid.

Egeland said he visited a hospital ward for malnourished children in the capital, Sanaa, last year, which only had two young patients because of staff shortages.

“All of the nurses and doctors left ... They hadn’t been paid for a year,” he said, adding that the ward was closed after the two children had been treated.

Egeland said non-payment of medical staff was having a “devastating effect” on the delivery of healthcare as Yemen’s cholera outbreak - the worst in the world - is worsening.

Roughly 10,000 suspected cases are reported per week, according to the World Health Organization - double the average rate for the first eight months of the year.

A total of 1.2 million suspected cases have been reported, with more than 2,500 deaths, since the epidemic erupted in 2017.

Egeland said it was vital to stem the collapse of Yemen’s education system, with about 1 million children displaced.

“Teachers haven’t been paid for a year, two years ... We are losing a generation here,” he said, adding that some classes are overflowing with 200 children and two-hour school days.

“Children out of school are extremely vulnerable for sexual violence, violence in general (and) for recruitment via extremist groups,” he said.

Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Katy Migiro. 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 news.trust.org

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