Yemen: Children at risk

A further million children at risk of famine in Yemen

Any disruption to food and fuel supplies coming through Hodeidah port could cause starvation on an unprecedented scale.

An additional one million severely food insecure children in Yemen risk falling into famine as families struggle to afford basic food and transport to health facilities for treatment. This brings the total number of children in Yemen at risk of famine to 5.2 million. Already, more than two-thirds (64.5 per cent) of Yemen’s population don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

As Hodeidah experiences renewed fighting there is a real risk its port – a vital lifeline for goods and aid for 80 per cent of Yemen’s population – could be damaged or temporarily closed, reducing the supply of available of food and fuel as well as driving up prices even further. This would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in immediate danger while pushing millions more into famine. The United Nations has warned that failure to keep food, fuel and aid flowing into Yemen, particularly through Hodeidah, could result in one of the worst hunger crises in living history.

A depreciating currency and collapsing economy are pushing communities to the brink of starvation.

Food prices are up by an average of 68 per cent since 2015. The Yemeni Rial (YER) has depreciated nearly 180 per cent in the same period. It now costs 600 YER to buy one US dollar, up from 215 YER when the conflict escalated more than three years ago. The price of fuel commodities like petrol, diesel and cooking gas has increased by 25 per cent between November last year and September 2018. The price of food has doubled in some parts of the country in just a matter of days. 

Though there are food supplies in the marketplace for now, families are unable to afford even the most basic items like bread, milk or eggs, making an already precarious situation even worse. Our teams have heard that some households are being forced to make impossible choices like deciding to take a malnourished baby to hospital at the expense of feeding the rest of the family. 

Dr *Ali, Save the Children’s Nutrition Adviser in Amran, Yemen, said:

“I’ve noticed people’s deteriorating financial situation as it’s very common that parents don’t bring their children to health facilities to get treatment, simply because they can’t afford the transport costs. People haven’t received salaries for years and they don’t have another source of income, so they simply don’t have the money to get their children to hospital.” 

A recent UN survey of 2,098 respondents across Yemen confirms the extent of the problem. An alarming 98 per cent of households said food was their primary expenditure. Equally alarming, 93 per cent named high commodity prices as their primary challenge, including food and fuel, while 72 per cent of households said they’re cutting down on food consumption to cope with a lack of income. 

Nutrition surveys conducted during the first half of 2018 confirm alarming rates of malnutrition. In Hodeidah for example, home to Yemen’s largest commercial port and the primary gateway for food and fuel to the rest of the country, one in every twenty children under five years is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Half of all children in Yemen are stunted.

Tamer Kirolos, Yemen Country Director, Save the Children, said:

“The nutrition crisis in Yemen has serious implications. Severely malnourished children are 12 times more likely to die from preventable diseases like pneumonia, measles, cholera or diphtheria. Children who are stunted suffer physical and often irreversible long-term cognitive damage. It’s essential that children get the daily nutrition they need to survive and thrive.”

“What happens in Hodeidah has a direct impact on children and families right across Yemen. Even the smallest disruption to food, fuel and aid supplies through its vital port could mean death for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children unable to get the food they need to stay alive. It could drive up the price of fuel – and as a result transport – to such an extent that families can’t even afford to take their sick children to hospital.”

“This war risks killing an entire generation of Yemen’s children who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases. All parties must agree a political solution to this conflict and give children the hope that they can and will have a brighter future. Let the immense suffering of Yemeni children end now.”

The brutal conflict in Yemen means communities across the country face huge barriers that prevent them from seeking care for their sick and undernourished children, including financial obstacles. The root causes of chronic and acute malnutrition and the factors leading to it are complex. But the current conflict creates conditions where malnutrition can take hold, exacerbated by poverty, lack of access to aid and low socioeconomic status. Women and girls and boys suffer disproportionately.

 

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