Most of the spotlight on Yemen is focusing on whether embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh should be given medical treatment in the United States. Tragically lost in this debate are millions of Yemenis who are suffering from hunger, malnutrition, and disease.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that over seven million Yemenis (1/3 of the population) suffer from hunger. This figure is believed to be even higher considering the past year of unrest and violence in the country. Malnutrition rates among children are high, causing stunted physical and mental growth or even leading to death.
“Don’t be afraid, we are not going to harm you, we are here to take care of you,” says Hana to the little girl who clutches her doll, afraid of the strangers who have come to her house. Do they want to take her away from her mom? But Hana and her colleague are enumerators and are here to see if little Fatima is malnourished, if she needs treatment. Sadly a quick measurement of her arm with a special tape shows she is much thinner than she should be at her age. “Fatima has severe malnutrition,” says Hana. “We have to refer her immediately to the outpatient therapeutic center so she can get appropriate care.” Rasha Al-Ardi/UNICEF Hodeidah/2011
This year of political turmoil and protests against long-time president Saleh has led to shortages of basic goods and increased food prices. Aid agencies, who are low on funding, are struggling to keep up with the increasing calls for help.
Yemen is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster and little is being done to heed the warnings. The level of human suffering has the potential to plunge the country into complete chaos which would easily destroy hopes for peace and strengthen the Al-Qaida branch there.
As President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan says, “As we have seen from Afghanistan in the 1990s to Yemen, Somalia and the tribal areas of Pakistan today, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates often thrive where there is disorder."
UNICEF is trying desperately to provide aid to the most vulnerable segment of Yemen's population: Children. In the following interview Geert Cappelaere, director of UNICEF in Yemen, discusses the fast-developing humanitarian crisis and how we can take action.