ALMOST 1 IN 3 YEMENI CHILDREN UNDER 5 NOW ACUTELY MALNOURISHED
Child malnutrition in Yemen has reached record levels, with almost a third of children – 1.3 million - under five years old now suffering from acute malnutrition, Save the Children warns as new peace talks began in Geneva on Tuesday.
In a new briefing note, “Forgotten Crisis, Forgotten Children: Millions of Yemen’s Children Going Hungry,” Save the Children also says that nearly eight million Yemeni children of all ages are going hungry every day.
Many more children and their families are at increasing risk of being pushed into acute malnutrition as supplies dwindle, prices skyrocket, and poverty levels in what is already the Middle East’s poorest country continue to rise. The charity spoke to families forced to make a desperate choice between food, shelter or medicine for their children.
“This week’s talks are a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of children as every day the conflict goes on, we get closer to a man-made famine. The conflict is preventing people from getting the food, fuel, clean water and medical supplies they so desperately need. Leaders at the talks hold the future of an entire generation in their hands – they must agree to an immediate and permanent ceasefire, embark on a roadmap to a negotiated and inclusive peace, and further ease the de facto blockade which continues to prevent enough supplies getting through,” says Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director in Yemen.
Amira*, 27 from Amran, told Save the Children staff: “Food prices are sometimes three times higher now. If we are lucky we will have a chicken once a week, but this has to feed 19 people and we often don’t eat dinner and go to bed hungry. My younger brothers and sisters don’t understand why they go to sleep hungry.” Amira’s brother Marwan, 7, said: “If I don’t have a meal before going to school, I hope I will the next day.”
Before the crisis, 80-90 per cent of Yemen’s staple foods were imported. The de-facto blockade, in place since the conflict escalated on March 26th, has therefore pushed millions of people deeper into hunger. Although import restrictions have recently eased, the blockade’s cumulative effects combined with widespread insecurity continue to prevent often life-saving aid and commercial supplies from reaching people.
In the past six months, just 32 per cent of the fuel that Yemen needs has been able to enter the country, making it virtually impossible to grind wheat into flour, irrigate crops and transport food to markets. The cost of petrol and diesel has nearly tripled, and food prices have risen beyond the reach of most families.
One kilogramme of wheat is now 57 per cent more expensive than before the conflict and other essentials such as onions and red beans have risen by 74 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. In Taiz, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting and restrictions on movement of goods, the price of wheat has risen by 134 per cent.
Even for those who can afford food, cooking it can be staggeringly expensive with the price of cooking gas having more than tripled. As a consequence, many families have had to reduce the number of meals per day and resorted to eating cheaper and less nutritious food, with serious long-term implications for children’s health.
Save the Children has distributed food, and provided cash transfers, to more than 35,000 vulnerable families in the north, south and centre of Yemen, and supports 160 health units to treat malnutrition. However, given the enormity of the crisis, the efforts of aid agencies are not enough and all parties to the conflict must ensure sufficient food and fuel can enter and be distributed in the country.
The bombing of Yemen’s main port in Al Hodeida in August has further restricted civilians’ access to food and medicine.
Save the Children is calling on the UN, international donors and the Government of Yemen to urgently prioritise restoring the port to its former operational capacity, and to ensure that the delayed UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism is implemented immediately so that increased commercial and humanitarian shipments can enter Yemen.