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YEMEN: Hunger and disease could kill at least 50,000 children 

SANA’A, YEMEN (November 15, 2017)— Extreme hunger and disease are killing an estimated 130 children in Yemen every day.

18-month-old Nadhira* from Hajjah in northern Yemen fell sick four months ago and her family could not afford to buy medicine to treat her. She now suffers from severe acute malnutrition.

A continuing blockade by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the country’s northern ports of entry is likely to increase the death toll further, past the projected 50,000 children expected to die this year.(1)

Almost 400,000 children will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Yemen this year(2) – but aid agencies are struggling to reach them all amid chronic funding shortfalls(3), the largest cholera outbreak in modern history, and obstructions to supplies of food and aid.

Without urgent, unhindered access for humanitarian organisations and an increase in funding, Save the Children is warning half of these children will most likely go without treatment.(4)

Based on the available evidence, if left untreated approximately 20-30% of children with severe acute malnutrition will die each year.

Even before this latest blockade, based on this calculation Yemen would expect to see about 50,000 malnourished children under the age of five die from hunger or disease this year – an average of 130 a day, or one child every ten minutes.

Access for aid workers and commercial supplies was already challenging across Yemen because of obstructions by all warring parties. Now, the decision to block access entirely to the key entry points of Sana’a Airport and the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef puts thousands more children at risk. Already soaring prices of food and fuel have spiralled in just a few days, further eroding the limited capability of humanitarian organisations to deliver lifesaving aid.

There is no viable alternative to these ports for bringing in the amount of food, medicine and other relief supplies needed in some of the areas of Yemen worst hit by the hunger crisis.

Taiz and Hodeidah governorates are facing the most serious effects of the hunger crisis, with a staggering 10,000 children predicted to die this year in each region (Table 1).

Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin with visible wasting of body tissue, or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin.

Malnourished children also have substantially reduced immune system function and are many times more likely to contract and die from diseases like cholera and pneumonia than healthy children.(5)

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

“These deaths are as senseless as they are preventable. They mean more than a hundred mothers grieving for the death of a child, day after day.”

“Save the Children currently has five shipping containers full of life-saving food for sick and malnourished children stuck in Aden because of road closures. Our staff cannot reach communities to provide life-saving care and much-needed supplies and relief workers cannot enter the country. Essential medicines, fuel and food stocks could start running out in a matter of weeks. It’s utterly unacceptable to let children die of neglect and a lack of political will.”

“Without urgent action the future looks bleak. Unless the blockade is lifted immediately more children will die. War has already destroyed public services and created the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. It is unconscionable to punish Yemen’s children by restricting access to parts of the country.”

George Graham, Save the Children’s Director of Conflict & Humanitarian Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns, said:

“The UK’s strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia means it can play an influential role in safe-guarding the lives of children caught up in this brutal war. With the fighting showing no signs of easing, we must ensure children and their families have access to life-saving aid by pressing all parties to guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access and lifting any restrictions on imports of commercial supplies.”

18-month-old Nadhira* in northern Yemen


TABLE 1: Untreated cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) by Governorate


Total SAM caseload for 2017*

SAM cases treated**

Coverage Rate***

Untreated SAM cases****

Deaths from untreated SAM*****




























































Shows worst five of Yemen’s 22 Governorates for estimated deaths from untreated SAM. *Yemen Nutrition Cluster estimate for 2017. Children 6-59 months. **Yemen Nutrition Cluster Monthly Update, September (figures to September 31). ***Reflects percentage of SAM cases currently being reached by humanitarian organisations. Yemen Nutrition Cluster Monthly Update, September. ****Estimated number of children with SAM left untreated in 2017 at current coverage rate. *****Based on a mortality rate for untreated SAM cases of 25%.


  1. This data was calculated before the latest blockade was imposed on November 6 by the Saudi-led coalition, severely restricting the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Yemen. We estimate our food and medicine stocks will run out in the next 8 to 12 weeks. Unless the blockade is lifted soon more children could perish.
  2. The Yemen Nutrition Cluster has estimated a nationwide Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) caseload of 385,842 children aged 6-59 months in 2017.
  3. The immediate financial requirements for the UN’s World Food Programme to address the food insecurity in Yemen amounts to US$1.16 billion. As of 26 September, the requirements were just under 50 per cent funded until the end of 2017. For the coming six months through March 2018, WFP is facing a funding shortfall of $390 million. See here for more information.
  4. As of September 31, the Nutrition Cluster had reached 38% of the children estimated to need treatment for SAM in 2017, with a coverage rate of 50.52% for the months of January to September. If these coverage rates remain unchanged 190,927 severely malnourished children will have gone without treatment this year.
  5. See here for more information. Save the Children has previously warned of the deadly link between hunger and cholera, with malnourished children at least three times more likely to die from diarrhoeal diseases.


Save the Children has spokespeople available in London and Yemen.

For more information or to arrange an interview kindly contact:

Bhanu Bhatnagar


Direct Line: +44 20 3763 0702