UNICEF Nutrition Officer Dr. Rajia Sharhan holds a young child at a therapeutic feeding centre in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital. (UNICEF Yemen/2011/Halldorsson)
UNICEF reports there are “very high” malnutrition rates among children under 5 years of age in the Hajjah governorate of Yemen. These startling findings include the Haradh, Bakeel Al Meer and Mustaba districts. The malnutrition rates are “way above the emergency thresholds.” Some of the cases are the most severe type of malnutrition.
The UNICEF report, released this week, says a team of aid workers “observed a nonfunctional public health system, high diarrhea prevalence, sub-optimal nutrition interventions especially for the severely malnourished.”
Without the proper nutrients small children are threatened with lasting physical and mental damage. Many children in Yemen never recover after being attacked by malnutrition. Intervention is needed swiftly.
UNICEF says that in the aforementioned districts 48.3% of the children are underweight, similar to the national average, a telling statistic about Yemen. The UN World Food Programme says, “the proportion of underweight children is the third highest in the world after India and Bangladesh.”
UNICEF has continued to run its operations in Yemen even during the most recent escalation of violence in the capital of Sanaa. However, the agency faces a funding shortage and does not have the resources to reach all cases of malnutrition. UNICEF and the World Food Programme depend on voluntary funding from governments and the public.
While there is increasing international focus on Yemen with its political struggles and Al Qaeda presence, this has not translated into support for child feeding and rehabilitation. Meanwhile, the presence of the U.S. military has escalated via drone planes as part of the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Every day is a struggle for children to survive in Yemen. The crisis facing Yemen’s children extends to education where there is precious little of it. UNICEF is trying to help reverse this backward trend.
Geert Cappelaere, the director of UNICEF Yemen says, “Without an educated population, no country thrives. In a country where only 70% of boys and 60% of girls receive basic education no effort should be spared in making sure every single child is sent to school this year.” UNICEF, USAID, CHF International and Save the Children are partnering with Yemen’s Ministry of Education on a Back to School Campaign.
The idea is to increase the enrollment of Yemeni children in school and reduce the dropout rate. Both of these tasks are huge challenges in this impoverished country facing political upheaval. The campaign features stressing the importance of education, the distribution of school supplies as well as teacher training.
Roberta Contine of CHF International says, “I would like to stress the importance of implementing such capacity building interventions in regions with emergencies where teachers are set to provide psychosocial support for children aside from traditional education.”
Yemen’s Minister of Education Dr. Abdulsalam Al-Jawfi says, “Education is a collective responsibility for everyone…. We also appeal to political parties, community organizations, and the media and mosque preachers to enthusiastically engage during the campaign and ensure that access to education is guaranteed to all children without any exception.”
One tool in increasing school attendance though is missing. This would be the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) school feeding initiative to provide take-home rations. Low funding for WFP forced suspension of the program in 2010. Since 2008, high food prices and low funding from the international community have devastated the WFP Food for Education in Yemen. Should this program be restarted and expanded nationwide, it would have a positive impact on increasing school attendance and lowering malnutrition rates.
Dr. Rajia Sharhan of UNICEF points out that school feeding would have the effect of improving the health of future mothers. Yemen needs to be developing a national school lunch program.
But Yemen faces so many hurdles before they can start attacking these problems. The political turmoil and violence has to come to an end. The international community has to support the work of UNICEF, WFP and other aid agencies.
Article first published as Without Nutrition and Education Yemen Cannot Thrive on Blogcritics.