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UN agency reports dire conditions for Yemeni children

December 12, 2016

Some 2.2 million Yemeni children are hungry and in need of urgent care with one child dying every ten minutes due to malnutrition, diarrhoea or respiratory tract infections, UNICEF has reported.

Jemen Unterernährung Saida Ahmad Baghili
Image: Reuters/K. Abdullah

UNICEF said on Monday that at least 462,000 children were suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) - which means they were extremely underweight for their height, also known as "stunting." This is an increase of almost 200 percent since 2014.

An additional 1.7 million children were suffering from Moderate Acute Malnutrition, the UN agency said.

These figures are at an "all time high," UNICEF said in a statement.

The Sa'ada governorate in the northwest of Yemen reported the world's highest stunting rates, affecting eight out of 10 children in some areas.

Other governorates - Hodeida, Taizz, Hajjah and Lahej - were also badly affected after 20 months of war. Yemen's health system is on the verge of collapse, UNICEF added.

"Malnutrition in Yemen is at an all-time high and increasing," Meritxell Relano, UNICEF acting representative in Yemen, said in a statement. "The state of health of children in the Middle East's poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today," she added.

Conflict goes on

A conflict involving the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and forces of the Iran-aligned Houthi group which controls much of northern Yemen, including Sanaa, has destroyed much of Yemen's infrastructure. More than 10,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.  

Even before the escalation of fighting in March last year, Yemen experienced widespread poverty, food shortages and a dearth of health services.

Limited access

Aid agencies said they have limited access to the areas where fighting is most intense. "We call on parties to the conflict to give us unhindered access to children in need across the country so we are able to deliver nutrition supplies, treat malnourished children and support Yemen's health services," said Relano.

Infografik Karte Yemen Mukalla ENG EN

This year, UNICEF has supported the treatment of 215,000 children suffering from SAM across Yemen and provided more than 4 million children under the age of five with vitamin supplements to boost their immunity.

Funding continues to be a challenge. In 2017, UNICEF needs $70 million (65.7 million euros) to provide the much-needed nutrition services to mothers and children across Yemen.

jbh/jm (Thomson Reuters Foundation)