UN World Food Programme (WFP) staff are seeing one-year-old infants arriving in food centres with the weight and height of newborns, spokesperson Emilia Casella told a news briefing in Geneva, stressing that currently the agency is only able to reach some 476,000 Yemenis, about 14 per cent of the 3.4 million in need of food aid, and now only with half-rations.
More than one in 10 children suffers from acute malnutrition and more than half of those under five are underweight. Overall, 12 per cent of the population of some 23 million is severely food insecure.
Facing a $75.3-million shortfall out of a total $103 million needed for 2010, WFP halved rations beginning this month, focusing this diminished aid on 270,000 people driven from their homes by the conflict between Government and rebel forces around Sa"ada in the north, as well as on a few specialized programmes for children under five and pregnant and lactating mothers.
Half-rations provide 1,050 calories per person per day compared to the 2,100 standard amount, and by August WFP will run out of food almost completely, including nutritional support for 50,000 internally displaced children under five.
The agency is in important discussions with regional and international donors and remains hopeful that funds will arrive and the situation improve for its programme in Yemen, Ms. Casella said.
Many Yemeni families are now essentially eating only bread and tea during the day, with a few vegetables a couple of times a week, she noted. They rarely eat important sources of protein and vitamins such as eggs, meat or fish.
WFP"s food-for-education programmes have succeeded in raising girls" enrolment by as much as 60 per cent in some schools, but due to the funding shortfall, the initiative was already suspended almost a year ago, she added.
Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told the briefing the situation is very serious and dramatic, especially for those driven from their homes, most of whom have been displaced for the past nine months. Those with money have gradually used that up to pay for food. Those with cattle have been forced to sell their livestock.
People are still not going back home in the Sa"ada region despite a ceasefire signed earlier this year because they still feel unsafe, fear mines and unexploded ordnance, and are waiting for proof that the peace is indeed holding, he said, calling for an adequate response to WFP"s appeal.