The conflict-driven food crisis in Yemen could become a full-blown famine this year, the UN’s humanitarian chief has warned.
Two million people need emergency food aid to survive and child malnutrition has risen 63% in a year, Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council.
A child under five dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes, he said.
Severe poverty, war damage, and a naval embargo by the Saudi-led coalition have all damaged food security.
About 14 million people are currently food insecure in Yemen, including 2.2m children who are acutely malnourished and nearly 500,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Mr O’Brien urged the Saudi-led coalition – which is backed by Western countries including the US and UK – to remove its no-fly zone and reopen Sanaa airport.
The blockade is having a “disproportionate impact” on civilians, he said, by stopping life-saving medication being flown in, and preventing 20,000 Yemenis accessing specialist medical treatment abroad.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, told the BBC that people were desperate and wheat supplies would last only an estimated three more months.
“Everywhere you go, you see people begging in the streets in bigger numbers, you see people rummaging through rubbish to survive,” he said.
“You hear catastrophic stories of children dying because they can’t get to health centres. People dying of malnutrition, people dying of preventable diseases.
“It will get worse because the problem is that the economy is in really bad shape and banking sector doesn’t function.” (BBC NEWS)
How can these women, children and elderly be a threat to us.. how we look the other way as the innocence suffer.. and ourselves the Country to look up to.. my heart breaks for Yemen..
The Yemeni people are on my heart heavy tonight.. I know this long but just news.. I wanted to share.. just because the media stops doesn’t mean all is well.. it just means a better story to cover..
people in Yemen with limited or no access to healthcare
* 1.5m malnourished children, more than 370,000 starving
* 600,000 pregnant women with limited or no medical support
* 10,000 children estimated to die this year of preventable diseases
* 600 heath facilities destroyed, more than 20% of the total
According to Unicef, nearly 600,000 pregnant women are living in areas where healthcare provisions are limited or non-existent. So many pregnant women are unable to reach a health centre that the charity no longer records figures for infant mortality.
Likewise, there are no reliable records of the number of miscarriages. At the Al-Jumhori there were on average two a week before the war, said Hana Musleh, the head of the maternity department, and now it is more like two or three a day.
Poor diets and lack of medical care are known to increase the risk of miscarriage in war zones. And then there is the fear, said Hana, constant fear. One day last August, three months into her own pregnancy, Hana miscarried when an air strike destroyed the building opposite her house and jolted her down the stairs.
For the babies that survive, and the young children of Yemen, the future is uncertain, if not bleak. Unicef estimates that 10,000 extra children will die this year alone, on top of those killed directly by the conflict, because they cannot get treatment for preventable conditions.
The charity’s figures are shocking: Seven million children have no access to adequate healthcare; 2.6 million children are at risk of contracting measles; 1.8 million at risk from diarrhoea; 1.5 million are malnourished; at least 370,000 are severely malnourished – starving, in other words.
Unicef estimates that 1.5 million children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition
A tiny fraction of the severely malnourished children have access to treatment – some at the Al-Jumhori’s Therapeutic Feeding Centre. Duaa, a baby girl from Saada, was born underweight and her father Wazzan, a farm-worker, could not afford to feed her and her two sisters.
“Before the war I could buy vegetables, I could buy whatever we needed at home,” he said. “But then the war started and that was it, there was nothing. I couldn’t buy her anything.”
Dr Meritxell Relano, Unicef’s deputy representative for Yemen, visited the Therapeutic Feeding Centre in August. “I was holding a six-month old girl and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “She weighed less than three kilos [6.5lbs]. At six months a child should be eight to ten kilos.”
At six months, Duaa weighed less than four kilos and could not move properly. Now, 20 days short of her first birthday, after five visits to the Al-Jumhori, she weighs nearly six. “Praise God she will be alright,” said Wazzan. “She has put on some weight and she is getting better. Every bit of food we can buy her, we do.”
But there is still a long way to go even for those who find treatment, said Dr Relano: “Even if the children recover and the parents go home, there are no jobs, no income, no way of finding food for their children.”
A girl lies in a hospital bed at the Al-Jumhori after an air strike killed six members of her family
In many respects, Yemen’s healthcare crisis is just beginning. The health ministry is approaching the point that it can no longer afford to pay wages or buy supplies, charities warn, and medical staff and students are working dangerously long hours to fill the gaps.
Diseases nearly eradicated before the war, including cholera and malaria, are taking hold again, especially among the more than three million displaced people living in makeshift camps. Thousands will need prosthetic limbs and years of physical rehabilitation.
Mental health is barely an afterthought now in Yemen, leaving the less obvious scars of war untended and untold numbers at risk of post-traumatic stress for years to come. Young children are seeing their families killed in front of them and parents watching their children die. “The best we can do now is try and help them calm down,” said Mr Boucenine.
“For these people, who have mental health problems, who need major reconstructive surgery, the situation is very bad,” he said. “The world needs to do something now because soon it will be too late. For some people it is already too late. Even if the situation stabilises now, this is a terrible burden that will go on for years.”
Meanwhile, the war shows no sign of slowing down. Saudi Arabia remains determined to oust the Houthis, who are entrenched in the capital Sanaa. On Thursday the US fired its own missiles for the first time in the conflict, retaliating against reported Houthi missile strikes against a US Navy ship.
“I try to be optimistic but we are in a very difficult situation now,” said Dr Relano. “If a peace agreement is not signed in the next month, I don’t think the health system can be saved.”
There are small moments of hope amid the crisis. At the Al-Jumhori’s malnutrition centre, Wazzan was getting ready to take Duaa home after her final stay. His youngest daughter has never known peace. “My hope for the future is that the war will end,” he said. “That is all we want.”
Duaa will return to her mother and sisters and to a diet of boiled potato and rice. Wazzan hopes she will slowly return to a normal weight. “God willing, we will feed her from the harvest,” he said.