A mother holds her severely malnourished daughter in a Unicef medical centre in Sana’a. Unless urgent action is taken soon, a humanitarian crisis will unfold. Image Credit: Courtesy of Unicef field office, Sana’a

Dubai, Sana’a A humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions is on the brink of unfolding in Yemen.

A quarter of a million malnourished children face death within months unless aid officials are able to deliver proper food to them.

After years of neglect and months of bitter infighting, Yemen’s infrastructure is in ruins.

Now international aid originations and local health workers in the impoverished nation are warning the situation needs to be tackled now.

“The malnutrition situation in Yemen has reached crisis levels,” Unicef said in a statement. It’s local director, Geert Cappelaere was more blunt.

“The situation is dire,” he said.

“Yemen has globally the second highest level of studented growth, second only to Afghanistan,” he said. “In children under five, 58 per cent are severely malnourised.”

The political and socio-economic upheavals of last year centred have worsened an already precarious situation.

President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the distribution of Dh500 million in emergency aid towards buying food items and supplies in Yemen earlier this week. The Khalifa Bin Zayed Humanitarian Foundation is taking charge of purchasing supplies such as rice, flour, sugar, oil, baby milk, canned food, and other key necessities.

While products will be purchased in local markets in Yemen to generate economic activity, Cappelaere wants all Gulf states to contribute and try and prevent a looming catastrophe.

“We’re at the tipping point,” he said.

Health professionals in have complained that in addition to the political crisis, the lack of public awareness makes it difficult to completely wipe out under-feeding of children.

Dr Faiza Salman Bin Naji, who heads a small unit for treating acute severe malnutrition at Mukalla Mother and Children Hospital (MCH), told Gulf News that people in the governorate are not fully aware of the hazards and many cases are exacerbated because of a lack of knowledge.

“We face many problems while treating malnourished children,” she said. “Many families irregularly come to our unit. They just come once or twice and when they feel that their children are improved they desert us. People have false information about malnutrition. They think it is caused by fever or cold.”

Dr Faiza said that people’s standard of living plays a role in the spread of malnutrition.

“Many of the malnutrition cases are caused when mothers feed their children with poorly nutritious food,” she said. “Poverty is another factor that causes the spread of malnutrition. Since they’re unable to buy milk, families feed their infant with water and sugar. Other families mix the milk with a lot of water.”

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

“We found out that the disease is widely spread across the coastal areas of Hudeidah and Taez and Hajja,” she said.

“We didn’t halt our work even during the political crisis last year. Due to fuel shortage and skyrocketing food prices and instability, many families didn’t visit our health centres.”

She wants Sana’a to allocate a permanent budget to her department in case international aid stops.

“Also, we face a problem with the governors of some provinces who are uncooperative and ignorant,” she said.