Yemen, with its geographic diversity and good climate, is an unlikely setting for a malnutrition crisis among children. On a good day, the markets are bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet looks can be deceiving. Up to 70 per cent of the nation's food supply is imported, and high levels of poverty mean that most families cannot afford enough food to give their children a healthy start.
“The situation is very bad,” says UNICEF Representative Aboudou Karimou Adjibadé. “We can really characterize it as a silent emergency. Nobody is talking about it.”
Yemen's nutrition crisis may be off the world's radar, but the numbers speak loudly. Half of all children are underweight, and half are stunted. Malnourished children are at greater risk of disease, long-term mental disability and untimely death.
Yet large amounts of land and water are devoted to growing qat, a mild narcotic that has no nutritional value and competes with food for the family income. Many Yemeni men and women chew qat daily.
Poverty, food scarcity and a general neglect for the well-being of children and women have led to the current nutrition crisis, in which widespread malnutrition is the leading underlying cause of 50 per cent of child deaths.
Therapeutic feeding ward, Yemeni Swedish Hospital, Taiz.