Break my heart: The easy and skinny challenges of a five-year-old

The ongoing civil war in Yemen has created a humanitarian crisis, with millions of children suffering from severe malnutrition and a lack of access to basic healthcare. One particularly heart-wrenching story is that of 19-year-old Mohammed Ali and his younger brother, 5-year-old Mohannad, who are both struggling to survive in this harsh reality.

Mohammed’s cousin recently died of starvation, a tragic event that has heightened his determination to save his younger brother. Mohannad, severely malnourished and weakened, lies in a hospital bed in Abs, Yemen. His skin is shriveled and taut over his ribs, a stark testament to the severe malnutrition afflicting him.

Mohammed’s family lives in a tent in northern Yemen, an area controlled by Houthi rebels, a Shiite minority group backed by Iran, which has been engaged in a brutal war with government forces supported by the US and an Arab coalition. This conflict has claimed nearly 7,000 lives in two years and has severely disrupted the lives of ordinary Yemenis, who already struggled to make ends meet even before the war.

Mohammed’s father, a seasonal farm worker, used to earn enough to provide the family with occasional meals of chicken and beef. However, the war has drastically reduced their income, making even a meal of fish a rare luxury. Nowadays, their diet consists mostly of bread, rice, and tea.

Earlier this month, Mohammed undertook a perilous journey to bring Mohannad to the nearest hospital, as the young boy had been suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea for almost two years. With no money for treatment, their situation seemed dire.

According to UNICEF, 2.2 million children in Yemen suffer from malnutrition, with 462,000 experiencing severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which makes them highly vulnerable to diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia. UNICEF is aiding in the treatment of 215,000 children with SAM and providing essential vitamins to millions of others, but the ongoing conflict makes it challenging to reach many areas in need.

Fewer than a third of Yemenis have access to health facilities, resulting in about 1,000 Yemeni children dying each week from preventable diseases. Mohammed is acutely aware of his brother’s worsening condition but feels powerless to change their dire circumstances.

“I can see my brother’s condition is getting worse every day. But I can’t do anything else,” he said in despair.

This story highlights the severe and ongoing impact of the Yemeni civil war on its most vulnerable citizens, particularly children, who are caught in a devastating cycle of hunger, disease, and death.

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