CAIRO — In a remote pocket of northern Yemen, many families with starving children have nothing to eat but the leaves of a local vine, boiled into a sour, acidic green paste. International aid agencies have been caught off guard by the extent of the suffering there as parents and children waste away.
The main health center in Aslam district was flooded with dozens of emaciated children during a recent visit by the Associated Press. Excruciatingly thin toddlers, eyes bulging, sat in a plastic washtub used in a make-shift scale as nurses weighed each one. Their papery skin was stretched tight over pencil-like limbs and knobby knees. Nurses measured their forearms, just a few centimeters in diameter, marking the worst stages of malnutrition.
At least 20 children are known to have died of starvation already this year in the province that includes the district, more than three years into the country’s ruinous civil war. The real number is likely far higher, since few families report it when their children die at home, officials say.
In a nearby village, a 7-month-old girl, Zahra, cries and reaches with her bony arms for her mother to feed her. Her mother is undernourished herself and is often unable to breastfeed Zahra.
“Since the day she was born, I have not had the money to buy her milk or buy her medicine,” the mother said.
Zahra was recently treated at the heath center. At home, she’s dwindling away again, and her parents can’t afford to hire a car or motorbike to take her back to the clinic.
If they don’t, Zahra will die, said Mekkiya Mahdi, the health center chief.
“We are in the 21st century, but this is what the war did to us,” Mahdi said. She said she tours Aslam’s villages and, after seeing people living off the leaf paste, “I go home and I can’t put food in my mouth.”
The worsening hunger in Aslam is a sign of the gaps in an international aid system that is already overwhelmed and under pressure from local authorities. Yet outside aid is the only thing preventing widespread death from starvation in Yemen. The conditions in the district may also be an indication that humanitarian officials’ warnings are coming true: In the face of unending war, hunger’s spread is outstripping efforts to keep people alive.
When AP approached U.N. agencies with questions about the situation in Aslam, they expressed alarm and surprise. In response to the AP’s questions, international and local aid groups launched an investigation into why food wasn’t getting to the families that need it the most, a top relief official said.
As a response in the meantime, the official said, relief agencies are sending over 10,000 food baskets to the district, and UNICEF Resident Representative Dr. Meritxell Relano said the organization is increasing its mobile teams in the district from three to four and providing transportation to health facilities. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of issues involved in operating in the war-ravaged country.
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Source:: Deseret News – World News