White House anti-terrorism advisor John Brennan spoke to reporters yesterday about the growing threat of Al Qaeda in Yemen. According to Laura Rozen’s report, Brennan warned, “Anytime there is a power vacuum, as in Somalia, and Yemen, Al Qaeda is attracted to it.”
Yemen is still in turmoil with protesters demanding that long-time President Saleh step down from office. The hope is now for a smooth, peaceful transition of power.
But the truth is that Yemen’s future is already being made, away from the protests and political halls. In fact, every day that small children in Yemen do not get proper nutrition, they are a step closer to lasting physical and mental damage. No society can advance under such a scenario.
The political crisis needs to get resolved quickly and peacefully. But Yemen clearly needs more. Child hunger takes center stage.
In Yemen, malnutrition among children was a huge problem even before the political turmoil started. About half of Yemen’s children are chronically malnourished. In the Sa’ada governorate of Northern Yemen, years of conflict between the government and rebels has taken its toll on children. Child malnutrition rates are extremely high.
More than 110 malnourished children under the age of five were enrolled and treated at the outpatient therapeutic program, while 38 suffering acute severe malnutrition were admitted to the therapeutic feeding center in Saada’s Al-Jumhori Hospital in August 2011. According to a rapid assessment conducted last year, 45% of under-fives in some parts of Saada are suffering from global acute malnutrition. This is one the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. (Ali Ghailan/UNICEF Saada/August 2011)
The political unrest in the capital, as well as the fighting in Southern Yemen, have made the situation even worse.
Yet there are things the international community can do to bring some relief and allow Yemen to catch its breath. This would be to set up a child feeding program that would cover all cases of malnutrition with special foods like plumpy’nut. Right now, all children are not able to receive food as there is low funding for aid agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Relatively inexpensive interventions like child feeding have not received enough attention.
A full supply of plumpy’nut, for instance, would be a rescue line for Yemeni children to get them through the first 1,000 days. This type of interim aid is crucial so you can move on to building longer-term food security after a successful intervention. For example, there needs to be a national school lunch program with the idea of reducing malnutrition among children and getting them to school to complete an education. The ministry of education in Yemen and the World Food Programme once worked on a school feeding program with a take-home ration element. It was cut because of low funding.
But this is the kind of plan that if enacted on a wide enough scale could bring significant change and hope to Yemen. We can take action now to help Yemen as it resolves its political crisis and fights Al Qaeda. There is no better place to start than with the future: the nation’s children.