UN agencies say 2.3 million small children in war-torn Yemen are estimated to starve this year.

A malnourished girl lies on a bed at the malnutrition treatment ward of al Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen on October 27, 2020.
A malnourished girl lies on a bed at the malnutrition treatment ward of al Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen on October 27, 2020. (Reuters)

About 400,000 children under the age of five are in danger of dying of acute malnutrition in war-torn and impoverished Yemen, UN agencies have warned.

They said on Friday that half of those in the most vulnerable age bracket, or 2.3 million small children, are projected to suffer from severe malnutrition this year.

"These numbers are yet another cry for help from Yemen where each malnourished child also means a family struggling to survive," World Food Programme chief David Beasley said in a joint statement.

The number of Yemeni children in danger of death from lack of food has increased to 400,000, an increase of 22 percent over 2020.

"More children will die with every day that passes without action, said Henrietta Fore, head of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

"Humanitarian organisations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives."

UNICEF estimates that virtually all of Yemen’s 12 million children require some sort of assistance. This can include food aid, health services, clean water, schooling and cash grants to help the poorest families scrape by.

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Yemen's crisis

The UN agencies warned that about 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women are also expected to suffer from extreme malnutrition in 2021.

"The crisis in Yemen is a toxic mix of conflict, economic collapse and a severe shortage of funding to provide the life-saving help that's desperately needed," said Beasley.

"But there is a solution to hunger, and that's food and an end to the violence."

Brink of famine

Today, millions of Yemenis are on the brink of famine with the economy destroyed, schools and hospitals barely functioning, and tens of thousands killed.

According to the United Nations, more than three million people have been displaced and close to 80 percent of the 29-million population is in need of some form of aid for survival.

The UN says that in 2020 it received only $1.43 billion of the $3.2 billion needed to fund aid projects in Yemen.

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Yemenis have suffered six years of bloodshed, destruction and humanitarian catastrophe. In 2014, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels seized the capital and much of the country’s north.

A Saudi-led coalition launched a sweeping military intervention months later to restore the UN-backed government. Despite relentless Saudi airstrikes and a blockade of Yemen, the war has ground to a stalemate.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced that the US will no longer support the Saudi-led coalition. But reaching peace will be a difficult path.

Biden also reversed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. That move has been hailed by aid groups working in Yemen, who feared the designation would disrupt the flow of food, fuel and other goods barely keeping Yemenis alive.

“Malnourished children are more vulnerable to diseases ... It is a vicious and often deadly cycle, but with relatively cheap and simple interventions, many lives can be saved," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

READ MORE: World leaders must act now to save Yemen

Source: AFP