Aid workers hope "shocking" new malnutrition figures from a survey conducted in western Yemen will help highlight the serious humanitarian situation in the country and prompt donors to act immediately.
Until now, aid workers say some donors have been unconvinced of the extent of the problem because of a perceived lack of evidence.
“It’s been a challenge,” one Yemen-based aid worker told IRIN. “Every time we sit down with donors, they say ‘Where are the figures? Where is the data?’”
Geert Cappelaere, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen, said donors have asked him for more evidence that malnutrition was such a priority.
“That kind of question - each and every time - kills something in me. Why do you want children to die first before you’re going to give any credibility to a disaster looming here in Yemen?”
Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, with the support of UNICEF, surveyed 3,104 households in Hudeidah Governorate in October and collected data on 4,668 children under five.
The survey found a global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 31.7 percent - meaning nearly one third of children surveyed suffered from either moderate or severe acute malnutrition - of which nearly 10 percent were severe cases.
These figures are more than double the internationally recognized emergency threshold of 15 percent. The survey also found that nearly 60 percent of children were underweight and 54.5 percent stunted, meaning their height was too low for their age, a sign of longer-term malnutrition.
These results are consistent with recent surveys conducted in other parts of the country.
In the southern Abyan Governorate, a battleground in ongoing fighting between government troops and al-Qaeda affiliated militants, a UNICEF survey in September found a GAM rate of 18.6 percent, of which 3.9 percent were severe cases. In the northern Hajjah Governorate, a government survey in June found a GAM rate of 31.4 percent, of which 9.1 percent were severe cases.
Nearly half of the children surveyed in Hajjah were underweight and 43.6 percent were stunted.
“Wherever we go, wherever we survey, wherever we assess, we come to the same conclusions,” Cappelaere told IRIN. “The levels of acute malnutrition in Yemen are incredibly high.”
Yemeni Minister of Health Ahmed Al-ansi says half a million children suffer from acute malnutrition across the country. Hundreds of thousands of farmers are at risk of losing their livelihoods because of floods and drought, he added.
According to the NGO Oxfam, many Yemenis live off tea and bread.
The UN says some seven million people (a third of the population) are food insecure, meaning they go to bed hungry or do not know where their next meal is coming from.
This number is expected to rise significantly when the World Food Program carries out a new national Comprehensive Food Security Survey in January. Aid workers expect the humanitarian situation in Yemen to continue getting worse next year.