A boy lies on a hospital bed in Yemen's port city of Al-Hudaydah. His eyes are full of life, but his skinny body tells another story: His arm is so thin that he can wrap his lips around it. His ribs stick out under his skin. He is one of 1.5 million children in Yemen who are suffering from malnutrition.
“The health care system is about to collapse. Sometimes the children cannot get to the health center. Lack of clean water can give children diarrhea,” Meritxell Relano, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, told ABC News.
Photos from Yemen show that malnourished children are some of the victims of an overlooked conflict: Yemen’s 18-month-long civil war. President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, supported by an alliance of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, is fighting against the Houthi group and supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The conflict intensified after U.N.-brokered peace talks in Kuwait last month ended without an agreement.
The war has led to a lack of food and jobs. National systems are on the verge of collapse, especially the health system. Back in June, the price of a basic food basket was the highest in the past six months, while the prices of cooking gas, diesel and petrol also increased significantly, according to a UNICEF report published in the end of July. The current conflict is affecting the fragile economy, and the central bank reserve is running low causing a severe shortage of cash, the report said.
“Poverty has increased because of the war. There’s a lack of food and a lack of jobs and income for the parents. People who are internally displaced are vulnerable to the loss of income. Many factories’ economic production has been destroyed,” Relano said.
Out of the 1.5 million children who are suffering from malnutrition, according to UNICEF, 370,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition that requires urgent treatment.
Relano said that many malnourished children probably live on bread and maybe tomato sauce. As part of their treatment at health centers, the children are fed “Plumpy'Nut,” a peanut-based food that is high on nutrition and resembles peanut butter. Among the children Relano met at one of these health centers was a 6-month-old baby who weighed only 6.6 pounds. She also met a mother of five children, including twin babies. One of the babies had died of malnutrition. So the mother was at the health center with the other twin who was very malnourished.
“She was trying to make sure that she would stay alive,” Relano said.
More than 1,100 children have been killed in the war in Yemen, while nearly 1,700 have been injured, according to UNICEF.