Her age is one on her birth certificate, but her body tells a different story. Elaf has a body of 3 months due to malnutrition. She lives in al-Thaita area in Hodeida, one of its most remote areas, which has no hospitals, schools, or government officials that visit regularly. Elaf’s mother was not even aware about malnutrition until an awareness campaign in the area, which led to her taking Elaf to the doctor.
“We are a poor and uneducated family so I didn’t know that my daughter is so thin because of malnutrition,” the mother said sadly.
75% of Yemen’s population lives in rural areas, and the absence of modern healthcare, and education, helps foster conditions of malnutrition. Malnutrition refers to the condition in which the nutrient intake of an individual has consistently been so low that the body’s physical activities have slowed down, been impaired or altogether arrested. This condition ultimately leads to death.
The UNICEF Yemen Situation Report for September 2012 estimated that children under the age of five suffered from a normal chronic malnutrition rate of 16.7%, a seriously underweight rate of 24.4%, and a critically acute malnutrition rate of 18.9%. These figures add to a total of 47% for Yemeni children under the age of five who suffer from some form of malnutrition.
According to World Food Program (WFP) the major underlying causes of the high level of food insecurity include extreme poverty and Yemen’s high unemployment rate, in addition to political instability.
Bishow Parajuli, WFP representative in Yemen and country director, presented the food security update for Yemen, which revealed that 43% of population in the country can be classified as “food insecure” in 2013. Parajuli said that over 10 million are food insecure, with 4.5 million people classified as severely food insecure.
Parajuli said that food insecurity is most widespread in Yemen’s rural areas, where 49% of people have trouble securing consistent access to food. This exceeds the rate of 36% in urban areas.
Dr.Asma Ahmed, at al-Thwra General Hospital in Hodeida, said that many children reach hospital too late for treatment due to a lack of education among resitents. “I wish that the authorities would make people aware, because as a result of lack of awareness, some do not adhere to the food program, which consists of eight meals per day for children infected, and leads to setbacks which are more dangerous for them.”
Several doctors agreed that awareness is most essential to combat malnutrition when it arises.