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Severe food crisis could be a death sentence for Yemeni children

SANAA, 28 OctoberWar, rising food prices, a health system overwhelmed by COVID-19 and funding challenges are affecting access to food for children all across Yemen, pushing up the number of children on the brink of hunger or even starvation, Save the Children warned today.

Following a new UN[1] report on malnutrition in the south of the country, the charity is deeply concerned for the children in the north as well. In some clinics where Save the Children works, the number of malnourished children who came for life saving treatment rose by 60 percent. 

Xavier Joubert, Save the Children’s country Director in Yemen, said:

“The recent numbers released on southern Yemen should serve as a clear alarm bell. More children are likely to die across the country if the food crisis is not taken on quickly. The deadly combination of war and hunger is pushing thousands of children closer to starvation every day.

“Children in Yemen have become collateral damage in a war that has raged for more than five years. It is horrific to think that, in just half the country, almost 100,000 children under five are on the brink of starvation – malnourished to the point their lives are on the line. And numbers may be even higher across the whole country.”

Save the Children continues to provide health and nutrition support for the most vulnerable children in Yemen, both in the north and south. In clinics in Hodeidah, the monthly average admissions of children suffering from severe or moderate acute malnutrition rose by 60 percent between March and July this year, compared to the previous five months. Voluntary health workers identified a five percent rise of acutely malnourished children across communities they visited.

One such child was Amin*, a 15-month-old who was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition – the deadliest stage of extreme hunger. With support of Save the Children’s health staff, Amin recovered.

His mother, Jamila*, said: “We buy the most basic food items as the staggering increase in prices doesn’t allow us to get the amount of food we need. Bread and rice are the only items we buy and, in some cases, we may buy some vegetables to improve the health of my son. It has become rare to find meat or fish in our meals.”

Save the Children said that the increasing number of children going hungry is a clear indication of the deteriorating food situation in the country. Yemenis are less able to afford food because of soaring prices. The cost of a food basket[2][3] in northern areas has gone up by 2,400 YER ($4 USD) since January, while families were already struggling to survive. In the south, the minimum cost has risen by an all-time high of YER 6,331 ($7.70 USD), which is 15% more than what an average food basket cost in 2018.

So far this year, Save the Children has provided 8,783 people, including 2,975 children, with food through household food baskets or cash transfers. The charity also supports pregnant women and offers breastfeeding and nutrition advice.

But severe shortages in funding have created a gap in life-saving programmes, meaning less children and families are receiving food assistance. This has increased the struggle children in Yemen are facing.

As needs are increasing due to COVID-19, funding is decreasing for the humanitarian response in Yemen. The virtual pledging conference that took place on 2nd June raised only 1.35 billion dollars, or just half of the amount pledged at last year’s conference, which totalled 2.6 billion dollars. As of October, only 1.75 billion dollars of funding has been disbursed.

Save the Children calls on donors to step up their funding for life saving programmes in Yemen. It also calls upon all parties to the conflict to work towards a sustainable political solution, and for unhindered access to all areas by humanitarian organisations to those most in need.


*Names changed to protect identities.

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[1] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/IPC_Yemen_Acute_Malnutrition_2020JanDec.pdf

[2] Yemen Minimum/Survival Food Basket for average household of 7 members per month (Prepared and adopted by FSAC partners) : 75kgs wheat flour, 10kgs dry weight beans, 8 litres cooking oil, 2.5 kgs sugar and 1kg iodized salt.

[3] https://fscluster.org/sites/default/files/documents/fao_fsts_market_monitoring_bulletin_july_2020_en.pdf