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Nearly 400K Yemeni children under five could starve to death in 2021: UN agencies

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ten-year-old Yemeni child Ahmadia Abdo, who weighs ten kilograms due to acute malnutrition, sits on her bed at a camp for the internally displaced in the northern Hajjah Governorate, in Yemen, on January 23, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Four United Nations (UN) agencies have warned that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year in war-torn Yemen.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) offered the assessment in a joint statement on Friday, adding that of the overall figure, about 400,000 children were expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they did not receive urgent treatment.

The UN agencies said that the figures showed an increase in acute malnutrition and in severe acute malnutrition of 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively, compared to 2020.

They further warned that about 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women were also expected to suffer from extreme malnutrition in 2021.

David Beasley, the executive director of WFP, said, "These numbers are yet another cry for help from Yemen, where each malnourished child also means a family struggling to survive."

"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," Beasley said.

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

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore also said immediate action should be taken to stop the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

"More children will die with every day that passes without action. Humanitarian organizations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives," she said.

Luca Russo, a senior food crises analyst at FAO, said, "Yemen remains the largest humanitarian crisis in the world and one worry is there is a bit of fatigue now."

"Public attention is coming down, and this is very risky," he said, warning that the suffering would only ease when the fighting ends.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned that malnourished children were more vulnerable to diseases, including diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malaria, which are of great concern in Yemen.

"It is a vicious and often deadly cycle, but with relatively cheap and simple interventions, many lives can be saved," he said.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies, with logistical and intelligence support from the US and several Western countries, launched a brutal war on Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to restore a Riyadh-friendly regime that had been toppled in a popular uprising.

The war has taken a heavy toll on Yemen's infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories.

Children are among the most vulnerable victims of the Saudi war on Yemen, but the issue has barely drawn any international response.

The UN children's agency warned in late June last year that the shortage of humanitarian assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic threatened to push more children in Yemen to the brink of starvation.

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