10-month-old Amara* is receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition at a Save the Children-supported health facility in Yemen. Photo credit: Claire Nicoll/Save the Children

Yemen: An Additional One Million Children at Risk of Famine as Food and Fuel Prices Soar

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Sept. 18, 2018) – An additional one million severely food insecure children in Yemen risk falling into famine as families struggle to afford basic food and transport to health facilities for treatment. This brings the total number of children in Yemen at risk of famine to 5.2 million. Already, more than two-thirds (64.5 percent) of Yemen’s population don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

As Hodeidah experiences renewed fighting there is a real risk its port – a vital lifeline for goods and aid for 80 percent of Yemen’s population – could be damaged or temporarily closed, reducing the supply of available of food and fuel as well as driving up prices even further. This would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in immediate danger while pushing millions more into famine. The United Nations has warned that failure to keep food, fuel and aid flowing into Yemen, particularly through Hodeidah, could result in one of the worst hunger crises in living history.

A depreciating currency and collapsing economy are pushing communities to the brink of starvation. Food prices are up by an average of 68 percent since 2015. The Yemeni Rial (YER) has depreciated nearly 180 percent in the same period. It now costs 600 YER to buy one US dollar, up from 215 YER when the conflict escalated more than three years ago. The price of fuel has increased by 25 percent between November last year and September 2018. The price of food has doubled in some parts of the country in just a matter of days. 

Though there are food supplies in the marketplace for now, families are unable to afford even the most basic items like bread, milk or eggs, making an already precarious situation even worse. Save the Children staff have heard that some households are being forced to make impossible choices like deciding to take a malnourished baby to hospital at the expense of feeding the rest of the family. 

“I’ve noticed people’s deteriorating financial situation as it’s very common that parents don’t bring their children to health facilities to get treatment, simply because they can’t afford the transport costs,” Dr. Ali*, Save the Children’s Nutrition Adviser in Amran, said. “People haven’t received salaries for years and they don’t have another source of income, so they simply don’t have the money to get their children to hospital.” 

A recent UN survey of 2,098 respondents across Yemen confirms the extent of the problem. An alarming 98 percent of households said food was their primary expenditure. Equally alarming, 93 percent named high commodity prices as their primary challenge, including food and fuel, while 72 percent of households said they’re cutting down on food consumption to cope with a lack of income. 

Nutrition surveys conducted during the first half of 2018 confirm alarming rates of malnutrition. In Hodeidah for example, home to Yemen’s largest commercial port and the primary gateway for food and fuel to the rest of the country, one in every twenty children under five years is suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Half of all children in Yemen are stunted.

“Severely malnourished children are 12 times more likely to die from preventable diseases like pneumonia, measles, cholera or diphtheria,” Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children said. “Children who are stunted suffer physical and often irreversible long-term cognitive damage. It is essential that children get the food they need to survive and thrive.

“What happens in Hodeidah has a direct impact on children and families across Yemen. Even the smallest disruption to food, fuel and aid supplies through its vital port could mean death for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children unable to get the food they need to stay alive. It could drive up the price of fuel – and as a result transport – to such an extent that families can’t even afford to take their sick children to hospital.”

The brutal conflict in Yemen means communities across the country face huge barriers that prevent them from seeking care for their sick and undernourished children, including financial obstacles. The root causes of chronic and acute malnutrition and the factors leading to it are complex. But the current conflict creates conditions where malnutrition can take hold, exacerbated by poverty, lack of access to aid and low socioeconomic status. Women and girls and boys suffer disproportionately.

“This war risks killing an entire generation of Yemen’s children who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera,” Miles added. All parties must agree a political solution to this conflict and give children hope of a brighter future. Let the immense suffering of children in Yemen end.”

To learn more about Save the Children’s response in Yemen visit: savethechildren.org/yemen.

*Name changed to protect identity.


NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The UN’s humanitarian update for the period August 27 – September 6 warns that an additional two million Yemenis are at risk of famine as a result of the currency collapse and price hikes. Based on the credible assumption that approximately half of Yemen’s population is under 18 years, Save the Children estimates that one million additional children under 18 years are at heightened risk of famine.
  • According to the UN’s World Food Programme, 8.4 million people in Yemen are severely food insecure and at risk of being pushed into famine. Based on this, Save the Children estimates that 4.2 million children under 18 years are at risk of famine in Yemen.
  • Earlier this month Save the Children warned that with a 2018 caseload of nearly 400,000 severely malnourished children under five years in Yemen, more than 36,000 children would likely die from extreme hunger this year. For more information read full report here
  • Save the Children has over 50 years of experience working in Yemen. Operational since 1963, the humanitarian organization was the first international aid group in Yemen. We work nationally and locally to promote and protect children’s rights, with programs in education, protection, health, nutrition, water, livelihoods, and food security. 

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