Too weak to cry: Starving Yemeni kids bear brunt of war
For every child killed by bombs and bullets, thousands are dying from malnutrition
Skin and bones, 10-year-old Ghazi Saleh lies on a hospital bed in Yemen’s government-held third city Taez barely breathing. He weighs just 8kg.
Starving and too weak to move or even cry, Ghazi can only look down at his emaciated body as he struggles to keep his eyes open.
About 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine, more than four years into the country’s war. At Al-Mudhafar Hospital, where Ghazi is being treated, medics go from one bed to another to check on malnourished children, including infants.
Eman Ali, a nurse at the hospital, said Ghazi suffers from acute malnutrition. “He has not eaten properly for a while now, and he ultimately reached this situation.”
While some doctors and nurses weighed children, others tried to feed the young patients through syringes because they have become too weak to swallow. Cases of malnourished children have become a reflection of the health system in Yemen, where children bear the brunt of the war between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels.
Aid organisation Save the Children said on Wednesday that as many as 85,000 under-fives may have died from starvation or disease since the Saudi-led military coalition intervened in March 2015.
“For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it’s entirely preventable,” said Save the Children’s Yemen director Tamer Kirolos. “Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop.”
While the United Nations is hoping for peace talks to take place in Sweden by the end of 2018, the situation on the ground remains dire with millions of children starving.
“We receive such cases every day, and some of them are very terrible,” said Sona Othman, head of nutrition at Al-Mudhafar Hospital. “Ghazi’s case was extremely bad and it mirrors the deteriorating health situation of the country.”
According to the UN children’s agency (Unicef), more than half of the 14 million people on the edge of famine are children. Fatima Salman, whose infant son is malnourished, said she feels more hopeless the longer the conflict rages. “My husband had a job before the war, and he earned just enough money to feed us, but now there’s nothing.
“We want this war to end but we only see it getting worse and worse.”
Children at great risk
More than 22 million people, or three-quarters of the population, now depend on humanitarian aid to survive. Yemenis struggling to survive such conditions are also confronted with a collapsed economy, leaving civil servants and teachers without pay for months.
Unicef estimates that about 4.5 million children in Yemen risk losing access to state schools because teachers have not been paid in nearly two years. More than 2,500 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and others are now used as shelters for displaced people or as bases run by armed groups.
The war has left an estimated 10,000 people dead since 2015 and triggered what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. However, human rights groups say the real death toll may be five times higher.
Yemen’s war has put the country’s children at particular risk. More than 40% of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15 and three-quarters wed by 18, according to Unicef, while boys are at risk of being drawn directly into the conflict to fight as child soldiers.