A woman sits next to her malnourished child at a therapeutic feeding center at Al Sabyeen hospital in Sanaa June 4, 2012. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai A quarter of a million children are at risk now in Yemen unless immediate aid reaches them.

“The situation is extremely dire,” Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s representative in Yemen told Gulf News yesterday.

“Some have days to live. Some have weeks. Few have months,” he said.” A quarter of a million children who are chronically malnourished are at risk unless we intervene immediately.”

Cappelaere is appealing to Gulf states to provide immediate financial assistance and specialised support to prevent a disaster.

“We are at the stage where we will see a famine like in the Horn of Africa last year unless we intervene now,” he said.

Unicef is working “extremely hard” on the ground to prevent the disaster from unfolding, but his organisation is fighting against the clock.

“We don’t have time,” Cappelaere said. “There is a political settlement in Yemen, the security situation needs to improve and the fight against malnutrition needs to be seen as an opportunity for the new government.”

Unicef estimates malnutrition is costing Yemen more than a billion dollars every year.

“In some areas, 60 per cent of the children under five have severe diarrhoea,” he said. “All of the food in the world isn’t going to stop the problem. They need specialised care, not food donations.”

He’s grateful for all of the help being provided to Yemen from the government of the UAE and its people — but more is needed.

“Do we have all of the resources we need? Absolutely not,” he said. “We need additional funding, and we need to bring in more partners on the ground.”

Dr Lina Al Aryani, the director of nutrition department in Yemen’s Ministry of health, told Gulf News that her ministry has established three health centres in each district in the country to handle the surge of cases.

“Due to fuel shortage and skyrocketing food prices and instability, many families didn’t visit out health centres,” she said.