Half of Yemen's children are malnourished, says report

A world health report has revealed that Yemen suffers from one of the highest rates in the world for poor nutrition among children under five years old.

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  June 12, 2006

A world health report has revealed that Yemen suffers from one of the highest rates in the world for poor nutrition among children under five years old. The report, carried out by Unicef, showed that 46% of Yemeni children are underweight, an estimated 53% of under-fives are stunted and 32% of babies are born with low weight. Naseem Ur-Rehman, communications coordinator at UNICEF’s Sana’a office, said: “The magnitude is very serious. Malnutrition is one of the main challenges in Yemen. 46%, almost half, of the children are underweight and particularly vulnerable to diseases.” Shockingly, the survey also showed that, despite a high gross national income, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have the same, or higher, rates of wasting as low-income Yemen. “These numbers should be a wake-up call to the world,” Dr Rainer Gross, UNICEF’s chief of nutrition, told reporters. ‘’Undernutrition is a global epidemic and one of the highest barriers to progress.” The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region overall took a turn for the worse, the report said, recording slight increases in malnourished children. ‘’In most cases, food shortages are not the primary cause of malnutrition,” said Gross, who cited key factors as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, poor diet, and lack of education for women. "Independent of culture, economic situation, or geography, you always find an association between education and nourishment of children. The less education, the more undernourishment of children.” Ur-Rehman also pointed to persisting poverty as a factor behind the problem. According to government figures from 2003, 42% of Yemen’s 20 million population live below the poverty line, with a daily income of US $2 or less. Unemployment also runs close to 40%.This poverty, aid agencies explain, quickly translates into under- or malnutrition. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that 7.9%of the population regularly experiences severe food insecurity, meaning they cannot always afford to feed themselves or their families. But aid programmes, including school feeding strategies, have been in place since 2003 and malnutrition rates are still on the rise, the report shows. “Considerably more must be done to halt malnutrition among children in countries such as Iraq, and Yemen, where under-nutrition rate have been getting worse since 1990,” say authors. “The proportion of underweight children in developing countries has fallen just five percentage points since 1990." UNICEF executive director, Ann Veneman, called on developed countries to offer more aid, saying the cycle of malnutrition was a major factor in the ongoing poverty of poor countries. “This lack of progress to combat malnutrition is damaging children and nations,” she said. “Few things have more impact than nutrition on a child’s ability to survive, learn effectively and escape a life of poverty.”

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