Aid groups push to feed Yemen’s hungry millions during Ramadan ceasefire

HAJJAH/AL MAHRA: A two-month ceasefire has given aid groups a chance to step up aid to Yemen’s hungry millions, but malnutrition ravaging children is projected to worsen if fighting returns or humanitarian funding does not pick up.

“The benefits of the first weeks of truce are already significant,” said Erin Hutchinson, Yemen Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

The group has been able to give aid to 12,000 people in one district of Hajjah province that has not been reached for more than three years.

More than seven years of conflict in Yemen have devastated the economy, displaced millions and pushed food prices out of the reach of many. Spiking global grain and commodity prices are adding further strain.

“Tens of millions of people in Yemen are living hand-to-mouth,” said Richard Ragan of the World Food Programme (WFP), which is trying to feed half of Yemen’s 30 million people in one of its largest-ever programmes.

Stunted and weakened by severe malnourishment, one-year-old Jiad Jalal’s skin is dry and wrinkled over his protruding skull, limbs and stomach.

Living in a makeshift displacement camp in Khadish, Hajjah, one of Yemen’s poorest regions, Jalal is one of 2.2 million children under five — including 538,000 severely malnourished — who will suffer acute malnutrition this year, according to pre-ceasefire UN estimates.

“We eat only what we can get from aid agencies. Wheat, beans and such items. If we don’t receive food, then some days we eat and other days we go hungry,” said his grandmother Zahra Ahmed.

“We are trapped between hunger and exhaustion. Look at the children,” she added, gesturing to tiny Jalal who they cannot afford to take to the capital Sanaa for treatment.

Hunger and malnutrition have worsened this year, the UN’s March data showed, and the body projected that between June and December those unable to secure minimum nutrition will hit a new high of 19 million, up from 17.4 million currently.

The number facing famine-like conditions could increase from 31,000 to 161,000 people, the UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis said.

In al-Mahra, in Yemen’s east, women in a displacement camp of tattered shelters built outdoor fires to fry dough balls that children munch on, and pat bread into hot mud ovens.

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