Children in north suffer severe malnutrition

Many children in the impoverished northern governorates of Yemen, particularly Saada, are suffering severe malnutrition as a result of food price hikes and limited access to food because of escalating violence between the army and rebels, according to UN and Yemeni government officials.

In May, the World Food Programme (WFP) screened children in Saada city and in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around the city and found they were more malnourished than the national average.

According to Giancarlo Cirri, WFP representative in Yemen, 4.5 percent of children in the camps were suffering severe malnourishment, and 12.9 percent were moderately malnourished.

"The nutrition situation in the city was even more serious, with 12.6 percent of children severely [malnourished] and 27.2 percent acutely malnourished," Cirri told IRIN.

He said that since a sixth bout of clashes between the government and Houthi-led Shia rebels broke out on 11 August "the nutritional status of children might have worsened with the reduction of access to food, particularly in Saada where families have lost their livelihoods and other assets”.

Photo: OCHA
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada, Amran, Hajja and al-Jawf Provinces


Soaring prices of grains and other staples in northern Yemen have contributed to increasing malnutrition among children, particularly those displaced by fighting, according to Naseem Ur-Rehman, chief communications and information officer at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Yemen.

An assessment carried out by a UNICEF team in early September in the Maraziq IDP camp in Hajja Governorate, some 250km northwest of the capital, Sanaa, found that 7 percent of children there were severely malnourished and in need of immediate attention, Ur-Rehman told IRIN.

"An arrangement has been worked out with the district hospital in Haradh [in Hajja Governorate] to treat severe cases," Ur-Rehman said, adding that UNICEF was providing ready-to-use food, plumpy’nut (a peanut-based food used in famine relief) and nutritional support wherever they could. This included adding micro-nutrients to food, such as Vitamin A to cooking oil, iron to wheat flour and iodine to table salt.

Dr Najeeb Abdulbaqi, director of the malnutrition department at the Ministry of Public Health and Population, said that through their healthcare units in Saada and Hajja governorates, children with severe malnutrition were being provided with free therapeutic formulas (high-potency vitamin and mineral formulas).

"The ministry has well-trained medical staff treating acutely malnourished cases in these units," he told IRIN. "We also treated moderate and severe cases in old IDP camps in both governorates, as well as in Amran and al-Jawf [governorates]."

However, Abdulbaqi said that because of government budget cuts this year, the health ministry lacked adequate funding to carry out further interventions for malnourished people in these areas. "The ministry still needs unlimited funding from international and/or local donors to implement other malnutrition strategies,” he said.

Emergency plan extended

In response to the increasing needs in conflict-ridden northern areas, WFP is expanding its emergency operation to support 150,000 beneficiaries, Cirri said, adding that blanket supplementary feeding for all beneficiary children under five will be implemented in the context of the ongoing expanded emergency operation for Saada.

"Due to the volatility of the security situation, the WFP emergency operation is being extended until June 2010," he said. WFP is distributing high-energy biscuits to cover the immediate needs of newly displaced persons, Cirri said.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world with 35 percent of its 21 million people living below the poverty line. According to UNICEF, 45 percent of its child population is underweight.