Millions of children face starvation in Yemen during pandemic – report

Unicef has warned that millions of children could be pushed to the brink of starvation as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across war-torn Yemen amid a "huge" drop in humanitarian aid funding.

It said the number of malnourished Yemeni children could reach 2.4 million by the end of the year, a 20% increase on the current figure.

The stark prediction comes in a new report by the UN's children's agency, entitled "Yemen five years on: Children, conflict and Covid-19".

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Millions of children face starvation in Yemen during pandemic
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Millions of children face starvation in Yemen during pandemic
Millions of children face starvation in Yemen during pandemic – report
'Many Kids Starve to Death, It's an Emergency': Yemen Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Amid Covid-19
TOPSHOT - Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, sleeps on a bed inside an improvised house in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. - The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
This May 2020 frame grab from video provided by a Yemeni Community activist, shows an activist wearing protective gear arguing with a person in the neighborhood, while collecting the body of a COVID-19 victim, after medics declined to take the body, in the Houthi-controlled city of Ibb, Yemen. An investigation by The Associated Press found that the coronavirus is taking a deadly toll on the war weary population of Yemen. The situation is exacerbated in the Houthi-controlled north where the rebels have suppressed information about the virus, severely punished those who speak out, enforced little mitigation measures, and promoted conspiracies and claims by the Houthi minister of health that scientists are working on developing a cure for covid-19 to present to the world. (Courtesy of a Yemeni Community Activist via AP)
FILE -- In this Nov. 23, 2019 file photo, a malnourished boy lies in a bed waiting to receive treatment at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. The U.N. children’s agency has appealed for an additional $92.4 million to help fight the coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa. The conflict-battered region had 25 million children in need of aid before the pandemic, the highest number anywhere. The economic downturn linked to the outbreak is expected to push an additional 4 million children into poverty. Ted Chaiban, the head of UNICEF in the region, says Yemen is a top concern. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
Foto tomada por un activista en mayo del 2020 que muestra el entierro de una víctima del coronavirus en Ibb, localidad del norte de Yemen controlada por rebeldes hutíes. (Activista yemení vía AP)
This May 2020 photo provided by a Yemeni Community activist, shows an activist waiting for an ambulance to collect the body of a COVID-19 victim, after medics declined to take the body, in the Houthi-controlled city of Ibb, Yemen. An investigation by The Associated Press found that the coronavirus is taking a deadly toll on the war weary population of Yemen. The situation is exacerbated in the Houthi-controlled north where the rebels have suppressed information about the virus, severely punished those who speak out, enforced little mitigation measures, and promoted conspiracies and claims by the Houthi minister of health that scientists are working on developing a cure for covid-19 to present to the world. (Courtesy of a Yemeni Community Activist via AP)
In this May 21, 2020, photo, grave diggers bury bodies at Radwan Cemetery in Aden, Yemen. At the cemetery in Yemen’s largest southern city, dozens of fresh graves are a testament to a spike in deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic. The cemetery workers who bury them don’t know what killed the newly deceased. But there’s no denying that there's been an increasing number of people getting sick in the port city of Aden — likely from the coronavirus. (AP Photo)
In this May 21, 2020, photo, grave diggers bury a body at Radwan Cemetery in Aden, Yemen. At a cemetery in Yemen’s largest southern city, dozens of fresh graves are a testament to a spike in deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic. The cemetery workers who bury them don’t know what killed the newly deceased. But there’s no denying that there's been an increasing number of people getting sick in the port city of Aden — likely from the coronavirus. (AP Photo)
En imagen del 21 de mayo de 2020, un grupo de personas se congrega durante el entierro de cuerpos en el cementerio Radwan de Adén, Yemen. (AP Foto)
Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, is measured at a treatment centre in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. - The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, is measured at a treatment centre in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. - The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
The mother of Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, feeds her juice inside their impoverished house in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. - The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
FILE - In this March 15, 2020 file photo, a medic sets up an isolation room in a coronavirus quarantine ward at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Aid organizations are making an urgent plea for donations to shore up their operations in war-torn Yemen, saying they’ve already been forced to stop some of their work even as the coronavirus rips through the country. The calls for funds come ahead of a UN donor conference, hosted virtually by Saudi Arabia, scheduled to take place Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
An empty classroom is seen at a closed school in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, March 15, 2020. The Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sanaa, and the country's north announced the closure of classes in areas under their control for a month as part of a preventive measure taken against the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2019 file photo, a malnourished newborn baby lies in an incubator at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. The U.N. children’s agency says that millions of Yemeni children could be pushed to “the brink of starvation” as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the war-torn Arab country amid a huge drop in humanitarian aid funding. UNICEF on Friday, June 26, 2020 released a new report, “Yemen five years on: Children, conflict and COVID-19.” (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
A Yemeni worker uses an excavator to dig graves at a specific plot for COVID-19 victims, at a cemetery in Yemen's third city of Taez, on June 14, 2020. (Photo by Ahmad AL-BASHA / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images)
Yemeni workers use an excavator to dig graves at a specific plot for COVID-19 victims, at a cemetery in Yemen's third city of Taez, on June 14, 2020. (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images)
Yemeni children watch as an excavator digs graves at a specific plot for COVID-19 victims, at a cemetery in Yemen's third city of Taez, on June 14, 2020. (Photo by Ahmad AL-BASHA / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images)
Salwa Ibrahim, a five-year-old girl suffering from acute malnutrition and weighing three kilograms, is carried by her father as they leave a treatment centre in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on June 23, 2020. - The country's health system has all but collapsed since war broke out between the government and Huthi rebels in 2014, and more than two thirds of the population of about 24 million need aid to survive, according to the United Nations. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MAY 18: A Yemeni boy wearing a protective face mask while he doing shopping at a mall which is almost empty of customers amid fears of the spread of the COVID-19 on May 18, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A malnourished child cries as he receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 10: A malnourished Yemeni child lies on a bed as they receive treatment at a hospital on March 10, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen. As the humanitarian crisis continues unabated in Yemen, due to the conflict and blockade, parents struggle every day to provide their children with the essentials they need to survive, where nearly 2.2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, and an estimated 462,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition – almost a three-fold rise over 2014 levels, according to UNICEF. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A malnourished child cries as he receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
Children walk past tents at a displaced persons camp in the Khokha district of Yemen's western province of Hodeida, on May 6, 2020. - Almost six years of war between the Yemeni government and tenacious Iran-backed Huthi rebels has pushed millions to the brink of famine in the country ill prepared to face the new threat. Squalid camps for internally displaced people like the one in Al-Khokha, outside the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, are ideal breeding grounds for disease, with little chance for proper sanitation or social distancing. (Photo by Khaled ZIAD / AFP) (Photo by KHALED ZIAD/AFP via Getty Images)
A child wearing a protective mask receives humanitarian aid in Yemen's third city of Taez, on May 8, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. - Yemen has suffered years of war that have driven millions from their homes and plunged the country into what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images)
BEIJING, June 2, 2020-- A health worker checks the body temperature of a boy as he enters a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, May 7, 2020. (Photo by Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed via Getty Images)
A child rests by a concrete pillar while reading at a camp for Yemenis displaced by conflict in the Khor Maksar district of the second city of Aden on May 5, 2020. (Photo by Saleh Al-OBEIDI / AFP) (Photo by SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images)
SANAA, May 2, 2020 -- A malnourished child lies in a bed and receives medical treatment at a malnutrition treating ward of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed via Getty Images)
SANAA, May 2, 2020 -- A mother holds her daughter's hand while the baby receives medical treatment at a malnutrition treating ward of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed via Getty Images)
Children riding a donkey return home with jerrycans filled with water from a cistern, at a make-shift camp for displaced Yemenis, in the northern Hajjah province on April 29, 2020, amid a severe shortage of water. - Yemen has suffered years of war that have driven millions from their homes and plunged the country into what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Photo by ESSA AHMED / AFP) (Photo by ESSA AHMED/AFP via Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 27: A Yemeni child stands among graves of people who were killed during the ongoing war, at a cemetery on March 27, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 27: A Yemeni child walks among graves of people who were killed during the ongoing war, at a cemetery on March 27, 2020 in Sana'a, Yemen. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A malnourished child receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A mother gives water to her malnourished girl as she receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A malnourished child receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
SANA'A, YEMEN - MARCH 21: A malnourished child catches his mother's hands while he receives treatment at a hospital on March 21, 2020 in Amran, Yemen. As a result of five years of war and blockade, Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. Children in war-torn Yemen continue to be the most affected victims in killing and maiming, where around 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition and require treatment. (Photo by Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images)
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Children sit in front of mouldy bread in their shelter, in Aslam, Hajjah (AP)

The agency warned: "As Yemen's devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably."

Yemen's poor health care infrastructure is unprepared to battle the coronavirus pandemic after five years of war between a Saudi-led military coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The war has also triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The conflict erupted in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition stepped in on behalf of the internationally recognised government, which the Houthis had forced into exile when they overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north the previous year.

The situation in Yemen is only expected to get worse as donor countries recently cut back on aid.

Yemen has officially recorded more than 1,000 cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, including 275 deaths.

However, the actual tally is believed to be much higher as testing capabilities are severely limited.

Sara Beysolow Nyanti, Unicef's representative to Yemen, said: "If we do not receive urgent funding, children will be pushed to the brink of starvation and many will die.

"The international community will be sending a message that the lives of children ... simply do not matter."

Unicef also warned that unless 54.5 million dollars (£43.8 million) is disbursed for health and nutrition aid by the end of August, more than 23,000 children will be at increased risk of dying because of acute malnutrition. It also said that five million others under the age of five will not have access to vaccines against deadly diseases.

Yemen Virus Outbreak
The average death rate over Covid-19 is much higher than global levels (AP)

International relief agencies are alarmed by the significant decline in humanitarian funding promised earlier by donor countries.

A virtual pledging conference for Yemen hosted by the UN and Saudi Arabia on June 2 saw 31 donors pledge 1.35 billion dollars (£1.08 billion) for humanitarian aid – a billion dollars (£805 million) short of what aid agencies needed, and half of what countries had pledged in 2019.

Unicef could only secure 10% of the 461 million dollars (£371 million) it appealed for to cover its humanitarian response to the crisis in Yemen, and less than 40% of the 53 million dollars (£42 million) it needs to handle the impact of Covid-19 on children, said the report.

Ms Nyanti said: "Unicef is working around the clock in incredibly difficult situations to get aid to children in desperate need, but we only have a fraction of the funding required to do this."

The report follows a warning by UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who told a closed UN Security Council meeting that Yemen could "fall off the cliff" without massive financial support.

Mr Lowcock added that Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the Arab world's poorest country, killing about 25% of confirmed cases – five times the global average.

Half of Yemen's health facilities are dysfunctional and 18% of the country's 333 districts have no doctors.

Water and sanitation systems have collapsed, resulting in recurrent cholera outbreaks.

Around 9.6 million children do not have sufficient access to safe water, sanitation, or hygiene, and two-thirds of the country's roughly 30 million people rely on food assistance.

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