Food crisis worsens as situation deteriorates in war-torn Yemen
World Food Programme appeals to international community for help
Saida Ahmad Baghili’s piercing eyes look up from a Yemen hospital bed as if pleading for help.
She is 18, but the children’s clothes that drape her emaciated body appear too large for her in photos released this week. Baghili is being treated for severe malnutrition at al-Thawra hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.
As the food crisis grows worse for Baghili and other Yemenis, the UN World Food Programme fears the devastating toll that hunger could have on the war-torn country.
The organization said it has provided food for more than 3 million people each month since February but is beginning to struggle.
It has split these rations so it can reach 6 million people every month, but resources are beginning to run out.
“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” Torben Due, the program’s director in Yemen, said in a statement.
“We need to scale up our life-saving assistance to reach more people with timely food assistance and preventive treatment. We appeal to the international community to support the people of Yemen.
“We need to provide a full ration to every family in need, but sadly we have had to reduce the size of the food basket and split assistance between impoverished families to meet growing need.”
The war in Yemen began in early 2015 when Houthi rebels – a minority Shia group from the north of the country – drove out the US-backed government and took over the capital, Sanaa.
The country has become a proxy battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
A Saudi-led coalition, made up of several Arab countries, began a military campaign in March 2015 aimed at restoring the Yemeni government and preventing the Houthis and forces loyal to deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.
The ongoing conflict has left thousands dead as the Saudi-led coalition continues its attacks on Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.
The fighting has led the World Food Programme struggling to cope with the demand.
The program aims to prevent malnutrition and treat around 700,000 children under the age of 5, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
It battles acute malnutrition, also known as wasting, carrying out its work through local partners in 2,200 health centers in 14 areas across Yemen.
Yemen had one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world before the current conflict, according to the WFP.
The UN program cites areas of Yemen such as Hodeida, where global acute malnutrition rates among children under 5 have reached 31% – more than double the emergency threshold of 15%
According to a June report, 14.1 million people in Yemen are what’s known as “food insecure,” including 7 million who are severely food insecure.
In some areas of the country, 70% of the population struggle to feed themselves.
The World Food Programme said it needs more than $257 million to give food assistance until March.
Ihsan, a 26-year-old mother, told the World Food Programme that she borrowed money from neighbors to take her malnourished son to a hospital.
“I am breast-feeding him, but he is slipping away from us and losing more weight every day,” she said. “I hardly have food to feed my children, let alone to eat well.”