News story

Yemen: World must tackle malnutrition 'death sentence'

Long-term UK aid will help to improve nutrition for 1.65 million women and children across the country

The world must take long-term action to tackle malnutrition in Yemen before it becomes a “death sentence for tens of thousands”.

Development Minister Alan Duncan made the stark warning today as he announced a new package of long-term UK aid to help improve nutrition for 1.65 million women and children across the country.

Over ten million people in Yemen are currently thought to be at risk because of insufficient food and in the worst affected parts of the country as many as one in three children are suffering from life-threatening acute malnutrition.

Britain has committed to provide critical support over three years, allowing the United Nations’ children’s fund UNICEF to work with the Government of Yemen to plan long term solutions to the current crisis. They will address the root causes of malnutrition rather than simply tackling the symptoms.

The UK is the first donor country to take this approach. Funding is normally provided for six months or a maximum of a year, making it difficult for aid agencies in Yemen to commit to long term initiatives.

For example, training health workers or improving health systems may not have been previously prioritised for fear that funding would run out half way through.

The new UK funding will focus on improving nutrition in mothers and children under five years of age in 60 of the most vulnerable, deprived and conflict affected districts in the eight governorates in Yemen where need is greatest.

It will enable UNICEF to:

  • Treat severe acute malnutrition in 100,000 children
  • Provide Vitamin A supplements and/or deworming treatment for 550,000 children
  • Deliver nutritional counselling and micronutrient supplements for 750,000 women
  • Improve water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in 300 schools, benefitting 250,000 children
  • Provide counselling to help improve infant and young child feeding practices for 130,000 parents and careers
  • Train 12,000 community health volunteers to recognise, treat and prevent malnutrition

Mr Duncan announced the new support during a visit to the country’s capital, Sana’a. The Minister has driven efforts over the last four months to secure international commitments to support Yemen’s development and to address humanitarian needs.

International Development Minister Alan Duncan said:

Now is the time to invest in the future, in the children who will help to rebuild and stabilise this country over the next 20 or 30 years.

Instead, nearly half of that generation of future-builders face stunted growth and delayed mental development as a result of undernutrition and over a quarter of a million more are at immediate risk of death.

The launch of this major new programme shows that the UK is serious about commitments made in Riyadh and New York, but others must now follow this lead and provide predictable, long-term funding. Without that, agencies can’t commit to tackling the root causes of malnutrition in case their funding is stopped half way through - resulting in time and money down the drain and more lives lost.

UNICEF’s Yemeni representative Geert Cappelaere said:

Over the last two years, UK funding has helped UNICEF provide immediate and life-saving interventions to Yemenis suffering as a result of the on going development and humanitarian crisis. This new support announced today will make a vital difference in protecting the most vulnerable women and children from under nutrition.

Being able to rely on predictable funding for the duration of the next three years means we can now act farther and faster in tackling not only the immediate, short term needs of those suffering from under nutrition, but also in addressing the root causes behind this.

Yemen has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. More than one in eight of all children under five years old in Yemen are classified as ‘acutely undernourished’, meaning they are at immediate risk of dying because of preventable childhood illnesses made worse by ill health and a reduced diet.

Nearly half of all children under five suffer from ‘chronic undernutrition’ (stunted growth), which prevents children from reaching their full cognitive potential. Conflict over the last two years has resulted in a humanitarian crisis which has made the situation worse.

Poor nutrition is not only about food. It is a complex problem which is caused by ill health, inappropriate caring practices and a poor quality diet, and there are a set of underlying and root causes which make the problem worse in Yemen. These include widespread gender inequality, which can affect women’s access to food for themselves and their children, low levels of breastfeeding, and an unhealthy environment caused by the lack of clean water or proper sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

To tackle poor nutrition effectively requires a concerted approach, including not only a balanced diet complete with the right micro-nutrients and vitamins but also improvements in health, education, water and sanitation, as well as linking rapid humanitarian responses to longer term development.

This latest drive follows the Global Hunger Summit earlier this year, which called on world leaders and governments to take decisive action on malnutrition before the 2016 Olympic Games, helping transform the lives of millions of children across the globe.

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