Food short­ages af­fect­ing thou­sands

7 Days in Dubai - - SPECIAL REPORT: YEMEN -

Salim Mus­abih was car­ried into a hospi­tal in south-western Ye­men last week. The six-yearold was ema­ci­ated and on the verge of death.

He ar­rived at Al Thawra Hospi­tal with his mother, weary and weak after their vil­lage on the Red Sea coast was struck by se­vere food short­ages due to poverty and dis­rup­tions to food im­ports re­sult­ing from the on­go­ing con­flict in the coun­try.

The child is one of al­most 100,000 chil­dren that are cur­rently suf­fer­ing as the re­sult of crit­i­cal food short­ages in the city of Hodeida alone, aid work­ers say.

Shock­ing pho­tos of Salim went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia after a hospi­tal vol­un­teer in the port city shared them on Face­book.

“They ar­rived last week from one of the six vil­lages on the coast,” said Ibrahim Al Kalee, the en­gi­neer and hospi­tal vol­un­teer who shared the pho­tos. “They came from a de­stroyed area where there is no food, pure wa­ter or in­fra­struc­ture. They were starv­ing, the only food they had was from the sea.”

Their home vil­lage of Buqa’ah is one of the six in the Ta­heita dis­trict, one of the poor­est ar­eas worst hit by the con­flict in Ye­men.

“I don’t know how long they will stay, but we have seen many cases like this,” Al Kalee said.

After Houthi forces seized the cap­i­tal, Sana’a, in Septem­ber 2014, Hodeida fell un­der their con­trol soon after. The city, a ma­jor sup­ply route of food im­ports into the coun­try, is choked by a naval block­ade im­posed by the ex­iled Ye­men gov­ern­ment since April 2015, re­strict­ing com­mer­cial and hu­man­i­tar­ian im­ports, a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil re­port in Jan­uary said.

The loss of food sup­plies, com­pounded by grow­ing poverty caused by more than 18 months of con­flict, has left more than 100,000 chil­dren starv­ing in Hodeida alone, a spokesman from UNICEF told 7DAYS.

“The chil­dren are suf­fer­ing from Se­vere Acute Mal­nu­tri­tion (SAM) in Hodeida gov­er­norate,” said Ra­jat Mad­hok, Chief of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Ad­vo­cacy at UNICEF Ye­men. “As you can imag­ine, a SAM child has ten times more chances of dy­ing if not treated on time than a healthy child.” “The on­go­ing con­flict, along with lim­ited food sup­plies com­ing into the coun­try, dis­place­ments of pop­u­la­tion, loss of liveli­hood and loss of in­come – clubbed with high prices of fuel and food and non-avail­abil­ity of sup­plies – has bur­dened the al­ready very vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try,” Mad­hok said. The de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of pub­lic and pri­vate in­fra­struc­ture and break­down of the So­cial Wel­fare Fund, Ye­men’s safety net and main source of in­come to buy food, has left many fam­i­lies des­per­ate, he added. Mad­hok said that so far this year UNICEF has treated 36,000 chil­dren in Hodeida alone for mal­nu­tri­tion. It is also func­tion­ing across other gov­er­norates, such as Sa’ada, Ha­j­jah, Abyan, Taiz, La­hej, Ab Dhale’, Al Bayda and Shab­wah, where short­ages bor­der on famine.

A ma­jor chal­lenge for UNICEF is fam­i­lies from Ye­men’s poor dis­parate re­gions ac­cess­ing health cen­tres, Mad­hok said.

“To counter this prob­lem, UNICEF has mo­bile health teams that go from vil­lage to vil­lage and screen and treat chil­dren.

“The scale of suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of the on­go­ing con­flict in Ye­men is stag­ger­ing. The vi­o­lence has forced the ma­jor­ity of Ye­me­nis into des­ti­tu­tion,” he added.

An es­ti­mated 21.2 mil­lion peo­ple – 80 per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion – need ur­gent hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. Al­most half are chil­dren. Mad­hok added: “With global at­ten­tion flit­ting from one cri­sis to an­other, Ye­men risks be­com­ing a for­got­ten cri­sis. Yet the needs of Ye­men’s chil­dren are enor­mous.”

UNICEF has called on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to step in and help re­store peace and fund na­tional sys­tems, such as the health sys­tem. The UAE is among the coun­tries to an­swer that call.

“The sit­u­a­tion is very dif­fi­cult in Ye­men,” said Rafat Mo­hamed, Ye­meni Deputy Con­sul to the UAE in Dubai. “Emi­rates Red Cres­cent and the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment are help­ing with food dis­tri­bu­tion through their con­nec­tions with the Min­istry of Health in Ye­men.”

STRUG­GLE: Salim with his mother

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