Child malnutrition reaches new highs in parts of Yemen: UN

Malnutrition in Yemen worsened in 2020 due to factors including coronavirus pandemic, global economic downturn.

A girl looks on as a worker gives a food ration to a boy at a charity kitchen in Sanaa, Yemen [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Parts of Yemen are seeing their highest levels of acute malnutrition in children, heightening warnings that the country is approaching a dire food security crisis, the United Nations said in a report.

Drivers of malnutrition in Yemen worsened in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic, economic decline, floods, escalating conflict and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response have compounded an already bleak hunger situation after nearly six years of war.

“We’ve been warning since July that Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food security crisis. If the war doesn’t end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children,” said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

According to a UN Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) malnutrition analysis of south Yemen, acute malnutrition cases in children aged below five have increased about 10 percent in 2020 to more than half a million.

“Acute malnutrition at that age causes irreversible damage to the brain and cognitive capacity of the child. It is absolutely terrible,” Philippe Duamelle, the UNICEF representative in Yemen, told Al Jazeera from Yemeni capital Sanaa.

“It not only puts the life of the child at risk, but it also puts their future at tremendous risk,” he added.

Cases of children with severe acute malnutrition rose 15.5 percent, and at least a quarter-million pregnant or breastfeeding women also need malnutrition treatment.

About 1.4 million children below five live in south Yemen, which is under the control of the internationally recognised government.

The IPC data for north Yemen, which is controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters, is not yet available.

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen.

The UN says the country is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the population reliant on humanitarian aid.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government removed from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthi movement in late 2014.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies