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Children in Yemen starve as catastrophic famine risk grows - UN

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A girl gets a food voucher

A girl gets a food voucher

REUTERS

A girl gets a food voucher

Weighing just 9kg at 10 years of age, Hassan Merzam Muhammad is so emaciated by the severe malnourishment plaguing hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children like him that he can no longer walk.

Fears of famine in Yemen are resurfacing, the United Nations says, with a report warning the country is returning to "alarming" levels of food insecurity.

"My son is sick and I don't know where to take him. He has fever and I've nothing to treat him, I can't even get water," said Zaina Muhammad, mother to Hassan and his six siblings. "Sometimes we go days without washing."

Coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and huge underfunding of this year's aid response have compounded an already dire hunger situation after five years of war.

Resurgent violence in recent weeks between warring ­parties, despite UN peace efforts, is also killing and injuring civilians.

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen. UN warnings in late 2018 prompted an aid ramp-up after which the World Food Programme fed up to 13 million a month.

"Now all those improvements are at risk," WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said. Despite mounting ­economic and health pressures, the world's largest aid response is scaling back due to insufficient funding.

Nutrition services for 2.5 million children could cease by the end of August. The WFP already in April halved food aid to alternate months in north Yemen.

"They are on the brink of famine but it is not famine yet... It's not too late," Ms Byrs said, appealing to donors.

Displaced five times by war, Hassan's family now live in rural Hajjah, one of the poorest regions, with no income.

"Warplanes circle above us, Houthi armaments are nearby; we cannot move on," Zaina said.

Nurse Makieh al-Aslami watched Hassan's father carry the boy into the malnutrition clinic she runs.

"Hassan has no health problems. His problem is hunger," she said. "Like all children, Hassan needs play, school... It's like he's in a cage, with hunger increasing depression."

Thin and exhausted herself, Aslami says malnutrition is increasing.

The number of malnourished under-fives could rise by 20pc to 2.4 million by year end on funding shortfalls, Unicef has said.

"If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late as people will already be dying," Ms Byrs said earlier this month.

Irish Independent