A doctor in a bare, rural clinic here decided to extend his working week to five days from two, to cope with the rush of hollow-eyed children who kept showing up in the mornings.
Already this year, two severely malnourished local boys had been so withered that they were beyond saving. The doctor, Abdu Ali Saad, kept pictures of the boys, ages 2 and 4, on his phone: a reminder of the dangers facing children in Yemen’s long-neglected countryside, more forsaken these days than ever.
“This is every day,” Dr. Saad said, motioning to the parents waiting on a recent day, some who had walked hours on dusty roads to reach the clinic, and who looked hardly better off than their children.
“Malnutrition,” he added, “is an emergency.”
Yemen is the most impoverished country in the Middle East, and among its grim distinctions is having one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world. Political turmoil since the 2011 uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left an already feeble government even less able to care for its indigent citizens. Chronic challenges have become emergencies as the state’s presence in much of Yemen has started to dissolve.
One million children younger than 5, roughly a third of the age group in Yemen, are suffering from life-threatening malnourishment, according to Daniela D’urso, the head of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid office in Yemen. About two million children are chronically malnourished. Nearly 60 percent of Yemeni children suffer from stunted growth, according to public health workers, who in the past few months have noticed other worrying trends, including cases of malnutrition giving rise to other maladies like tuberculosis.
The crisis is “unprecedented,” Ms. D’urso said.
Yemen’s power struggles have bled the country. The latest one started with the rise of the Houthis, a rebel group from northern Yemen that made its way to the capital this fall, seizing power and crippling the government’s authority.