GENEVA - U.N. agencies are warning that hundreds of thousands of young children in Yemen risk dying from severe acute malnutrition this year unless they receive urgent treatment.
The assessment was based on a joint report released Friday by the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.
Nearly six years of civil war has taken a heavy toll on Yemen’s children. The U.N. report said 2.3 million children — half of all children under 5 — were expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year.
Of these, it warned, nearly 400,000 children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition. This is the most extreme form of undernutrition and can lead to death if left untreated. Children who suffer from this condition resemble living skeletons because they lack the nutrients to keep them whole and healthy.
World Food Program spokesman Tomson Phiri said Yemen was teetering on the brink of a major catastrophe as child malnutrition rates reach record levels.
"Over half the population—16.2 million — are unable to meet their daily food needs whilst others are just one step away from famine, the first time faminelike conditions have been identified in Yemen in two years,” Phiri said.
Last year, the WFP was forced to cut food rations to 8 million people in Yemen for lack of funds. The U.N. food agency says it needs at least $1.9 billion this year to prevent famine in Yemen.
Phiri said hunger and malnutrition can have enormous economic and health consequences lasting generations.
“The fact that 2.3 million children are facing acute malnutrition is devastating to say the least," he said. "And we need to remember that behind these numbers are young children whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict and are now facing long-term consequences through no fault of their own.”
Malnutrition damages a child’s physical and mental development, especially during the first two years of life. It is largely irreversible and can lead to serious health problems later in life, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
U.N. agencies say there is still time to end the suffering of Yemen’s children, if the world acts now to provide the support needed to end the violence and the hunger stalking the country.