The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that half a million children in Yemen could die or suffer physical and mental damage as a result of malnutrition, unless sufficient resources are made available to alleviate the effects of conflict, chronic poverty and drought.
“Malnutrition is preventable… therefore, inaction is unconscionable,” Maria Calivis, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement yesterday after a two-day visit to Yemen.
“Conflict, poverty and drought, compounded by the unrest of the previous year, the high food and fuel prices, and the breakdown of social services, are putting children’s health at great risks and threatening their very survival,” she said.
With 58 per cent of children stunted, Yemen has the second highest rate of chronic malnutrition among children in the world after Afghanistan. Acute malnutrition affects as many as 30 per cent of children in some parts of the country, close to the levels observed in south Somalia, and twice as high as the internationally recognized emergency threshold.
Malnutrition, along with poor health services, is also to blame for most of the recent deaths of 74 children from measles, among 2,500 affected by an outbreak of the disease, according to Government figures. While most children recover from measles within two to three weeks, children with malnutrition can suffer serious complications which can lead to death.
UNICEF has appealed for nearly $50 million to fund programmes for children’s urgent humanitarian needs in Yemen this year.
The country also has one of the highest rates of death among children under the age of five in the Middle East and North African region, at 77 per 1,000 live births, which means that some 69,000 children die every year before their fifth birthday.
“Now more than ever is the time for a renewed commitment to a better, peaceful future for Yemen’s children. As the country prepares for the next phase, it is essential that children are given top priority in the political agenda. Their needs need to be met and their rights upheld,” said Ms. Calivis.
Warring factions in Yemen signed an agreement in November on a transitional settlement under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand over power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. A new Government of National Unity was formed and presidential elections have been scheduled for 21 February.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, told reporters at UN Headquarters that for the country’s transition to succeed, a concerted effort is required to ensure the participation of youth and other important constituencies, including the southern movements and the so-called Al-Houthi group in the north, in the political process.
“As an immediate step, all efforts should now be focused on ensuring the holding of peaceful elections,” Mr. Benomar said after briefing the Security Council on the situation in Yemen, stressing the need to ensure that the polls are held on time and in an atmosphere of calm.
“Expectations of Yemenis remain high for stability and recovery. I told the Security Council that Yemen will need the sustained and committed support of donors to see it through the transition and help them with economic recovery,” he added.
He also stressed that the humanitarian situation in the country remains dire with an estimated 6.8 million people facing food shortages.