A year of Yemen’s turmoil has exacerbated the number of malnourished children under the age of five to around 750,000, UNICEF said Tuesday, appealing to the government and the international community to help develop the country’s infrastructure to tackle the problem.
In some parts of this country of 20 million people, the number of children suffering from malnutrition has doubled from what it was in 2000, said Maria Calivis, the UNICEF director for Middle East and North Africa.
Calivis said in a press conference the figure crosses the “emergency threshold,” an international standard calling for urgent action.
“The number itself says it’s a crisis,” Calivis said. “The crisis can be an invisible one because it is (mostly) outside, in remote areas.”
Calivis met with the country’s new prime minister and Cabinet officials who she said were “not only surprised but shocked” by the figure.
Yemen has for years experienced localized insurgencies, and the number of displaced people has increased during the year-long uprising against authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts.
According to UNICEF, 60 percent of internal refugees or, around 300,000, are Yemeni children.
Before the uprising against Saleh, Yemen was already the most impoverished country in the Arab world.
UNICEF said that in the capital of Sanaa alone, 82 schools were attacked by armed forces or groups since the beginning of protests early last year.
Despite the political and security upheaval, Calivis said children must remain a priority for the new government.
“There are obviously many competing priorities and there will be always be in the future competing priorities, but ours is an appeal that protecting your children will also ensure security, peace and economic recovery in the long run,” she said.
Separately from the violence gripping Yemen, malnutrition resulting from waterborne diseases, unsanitary conditions and little access to vitamin-rich food has put 500,000 more children in danger of dying or suffering from physical disabilities due to malnutrition.
UNICEF has vowed to spend 140 million dollars in the next four years in Yemen, but Calivis said it is “a drop in the bucket when you look at the needs.”
“UNCIEF plays an important part, but it needs government commitment and international commitment in order to make a difference,” she said.
“In terms of where he goes afterward, we do not have any information on that,” he said. “The only thing that we have heard from him is that he intends to come back to Yemen. We are not involved in any discussion with any countries where he might go after his treatment.”
UNICEF said Tuesday that the number of malnourished children under the age of five has risen in the last year to around 750,000. In some parts of the country of 20 million people, the number of children suffering from malnutrition has doubled from the level in 2000, the group said.
Out of the 300,000 people displaced inside the country, 60 percent are children, UNICEF said.