1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Yemen

Children in north suffer severe malnutrition

Displaced children with their cooking items at a rural school in Amran Governorate used as a makeshift IDP camp
(Adel Yahya/IRIN)

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”.

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

A map of Yemen highlighting Saada, Amran, Hajja and al-Jawf Provinces
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Conditions deteriorate for trapped Saada IDPs
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada, Amran, Hajja and al-Jawf Provinces

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.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.