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Yemen: Combatting Severe Malnutrition with Clean Water

Relief International Yemen
Noora and her children receive a prescription of antibiotics at one of Relief International’s EU-supported mobile health clinics. © Relief International.

For the past two years Yemen has been wracked by widespread armed conflict. Even before the war, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa but since March 2015, the humanitarian situation has significantly deteriorated. The UN estimates that 18.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Severe food shortages have led to chronic malnutrition, less than half of the country’s health facilities are functional, millions of families have been forced from their homes, and deadly diseases like cholera and dengue break out across the country because infrastructure has been damaged during the fighting and there is not enough clean water. With the support from EU Humanitarian Aid, the aid group Relief International provides water, nutritional supplements and healthcare to thousands of war-affected people in Yemen.

Samira Yaha Tamesh

By Samira Yaha Tamesh, field monitoring officer, Relief International, @ReliefIntl

Hajjah governorate is one of the worst-affected places in Yemen. Water shortages have caused outbreaks of skin disease because people do not have enough water to wash; contaminated water supplies have led to high rates of diarrhoea and indirectly caused malnutrition – especially among children. There are only 10 health workers for every 10 000 people.

Relief International has been working to save lives in Yemen since 2009. In partnership with EU Humanitarian Aid, the aid group works in some of the most remote and desperate areas of Hajjah governorate to ensure families have clean, safe water for drinking and washing, to combat the effects of severe, chronic malnutrition and to deliver healthcare via existing health facilities and mobile medical units. The mobile teams travel to numerous sites, revisiting the same areas every week, reaching communities that would otherwise have no services.

Noora*, 32, lives with her husband and their four young children Aisha, Maher, Rahman and Hana’a. They used to live in Hajjah, a city in north-western Yemen, but as a result of the war they fled to a small village in the mountains.

I met Noora while she was seeing the medical staff at one of the mobile health clinics run by Relief International in partnership with EU Humanitarian Aid. She told me she has visited the mobile health clinics, in two locations nearby her village, regularly for the past several months. This time her children were sick with fevers and coughs.

Since the war escalated in 2015, Noora and her family, like many others who have fled the fighting, have found themselves in dire circumstances. Her husband was their sole source of income as women in rural Yemen are usually not permitted to work. He used to sell fresh produce but lost his business when the area he used to transport his goods became too dangerous to travel through because of the war.

Three months ago, Noora brought her children to one of the mobile health clinics. They regularly had urinary tract infections and diarrhoea because they were drinking unclean water. Noora had a scabies skin rash because the family did not have enough water to wash with. The three youngest children were suffering from malnutrition and the youngest daughter, Aisha, was severely malnourished.

Relief International provided Noora’s family with water containers to store water in their house so they would always have water for washing, as well as a ceramic water filter so they would always have clean drinking water. They were also given a wash basin, soap, and detergent, which Noora can use to wash her children and their clothes. After two rounds of medication provided through the mobile health clinics, Noora’s scabies disappeared.

Relief International provided regular nutritional supplements to the children over a period of several months until they recovered and are now at healthy weights. Relief International staff also vaccinated Aisha against common diseases.

Noora did not breastfeed any of her children and instead used milk powder formula, believing it to be better - a commonly held belief in Yemen. The formula is more expensive and often mothers dilute it to make it last longer. Furthermore, it is regularly mixed with unclean water.

Each mobile health clinic is staffed with a midwife for reproductive healthcare. The midwife at one of the mobile health clinics provided Noora with maternal and new-born healthcare. She explained the importance of breastfeeding, especially when the safety of the water cannot be guaranteed.

All of Noora’s children were born at home with the assistance of a “Jidda” – a traditional birth attendant, who often does not have specialised knowledge or experience of assisted deliveries. If Noora and her husband choose to have more children, she will now be able to give birth with a trained midwife and modern medical supplies and equipment in one of the health facilities supported by Relief International through EU Humanitarian Aid. 

The mobile health clinics have meant that families like Noora’s, who had to travel great distances to the nearest facility, can now access healthcare regularly. The sustained supply of nutritional supplements Relief International gave to Noora’s children has meant they are no longer malnourished and are less likely to get sick now they have clean drinking water in their home. She told me her children haven’t had diarrhoea or urinary tract infections since receiving the water filter and other hygiene items three months ago.

“The mobile health clinics have helped many people in this village and other villages in the district,” Noora said. “I’m thankful now that I can receive immediate care whenever any of my family members have problems.”

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the family.

Last updated
06/07/2017