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More disaster looms for children caught in Sa’ada emergency


SANA’A, YEMEN, - UNICEF is sounding a loud alarm over staggering rates of child malnutrition in Sa’ada, a northern governorate that has been affected by conflict in recent years. The dire situation became fully clear when the findings of a UNICEF-supported screening, conducted by the Ministry of Public Health and Population, were released earlier this month.

Nearly half of the 26,246 children aged 6-59 months screened in five western districts of Sa’ada in July 2010 were found to be suffering from global acute malnutrition; in one area, the proportion was as high as three out of four children. Overall, 17 per cent of the children screened suffer from severe acute malnutrition and 28 per cent from moderate acute malnutrition.

“Malnutrition is the main underlying cause of death for young children in Yemen, and therefore this grim situation could spell disaster for the children of Sa’ada,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. “As winter approaches, thousands of children are at serious risk if we are not able to act immediately.”

Acute malnutrition is a chronic and country-wide problem among children under five in Yemen. UNICEF figures show that 15 per cent of children nationwide suffer from global acute malnutrition. The protracted conflict in Sa’ada has severely worsened the situation for conflict-affected children.

The extremely volatile security situation has impeded access, limiting the reach of humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF. Therefore, delivery of basic relief items, including ready-to-use therapeutic food, has been severely constrained.

Food assistance alone is not enough to address malnutrition. Major efforts are needed to support household food security, change existing feeding practices and behaviours, provide minimum basic health and nutrition services, including therapeutic food, and ensure safe water, sanitation and hygiene for populations affected by the conflict.

UNICEF therefore calls upon all parties to the conflict in Sa’ada as well as the international community, including the Qatari mediation delegation currently visiting Yemen, to ensure that immediate access for humanitarian actors is granted to the entire governorate of Sa’ada to ensure children can receive necessary life-saving assistance.


Malnutrition is a complex condition that can involve multiple, overlapping deficiencies of protein, energy and micronutrients. Insufficient access to food, health services and safe water and sanitation, as well as inadequate child and maternal care are underlying causes.

Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) places a child at risk of dying from a simple infection. A child with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) is at risk of becoming severely malnourished from a simple infection. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) refers to the total percentage of children suffering from both SAM and GAM.

The community-based screening reached 26,246 children, representing 80 per cent of the total population of children aged 6-59 months in the western districts of Razeh, Munabih, Al Thaheer, Ghammer and Shada. The screening took place during a measles, OPV and Vitamin A campaign in July 2010.

The prevalence of acute malnutrition was estimated in the screening based on the globally-accepted Mid-Upper Arm Circumference Measurement (MUAC). MUAC is a better indicator of mortality risk associated with severe acute malnutrition than the previously used Weight-for-Height measurement. It is therefore a better measure to identify children most in need of nutrition management and appropriate treatment.

Ready-to use therapeutic food has very low water content and therefore resists bacterial contamination. This makes it safe and easy to take as a treatment for severely malnourished children.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:


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