Food shortages affecting thousands
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