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Yemen Food Crisis: 300,000 Kids Are Starving

Hundreds of thousands of children are facing life-threatening levels of starvation in Yemen as a food crisis grips the nation.

People fleeing fighting in the North and South of this troubled country live in squalid camps with almost no chance of returning home and finding anything left.

They are caught in a cycle of poverty and insecurity that is threatening to engulf the displaced people of the poorest country on the Arabian peninsular.

More shocking is that their numbers are utterly dwarfed by those facing starvation that have not left their homes and have not been forced into camps.

Yemen has a catastrophic food crisis. Nearly half the population, 10 million people, does not have enough to eat. While 300,000 children are facing life threatening levels of malnutrition.

The United Nations says Yemen is already in the throes of a disaster.

"The levels are truly terrible. Whatever we do thousands upon thousands of children will die this year from malnutrition," Unicef's man in Yemen, Geert Cappelaere, said.

"In some areas child malnutrition is at 30%, to put it in context, an emergency is 15%. It is double that already."

In the capital Sana'a the only specialist-feeding unit in the country is overwhelmed with children needing help.

Doctors showed us some of the most severely malnourished. They looked like tiny babies but are actually toddlers who are so lacking in fat and muscle they look more like premature newborns.

The problem is that just a fraction of those needing help will ever make it to the care of this hospital. Across the country thousands are dying because there is no one there to help them.

Parents mob Dr Ahmed Shamsan, who is in charge of the centre, as he walks through the wards of children who have a variety of different illnesses but all with an underlying single common factor - malnutrition.

"This is a terrible crisis and there is little we can do. There is ignorance which means that malnourished children are not brought to us until they have another illness and then it is often too late," he said.

The Arab Spring and its ensuing political crisis, wars in the north and south of the country and an internationally led war against al Qaeda , also in the south, has guaranteed terrible insecurity levels across Yemen.

Add to the mix a high birthrate, poor water supplies and a doubling of food costs in a single year and you have a perfect storm of crisis.

The displaced people are the lowest in the pecking order, when it comes to help.

Tented camps, disused buildings and empty schools are home to thousands who are displaced the length and breadth of the country.

They sit and watch their children die from diseases their bodies have no strength to fight.

"There are children everywhere here," one father in a camp near the port of Aden said.

"Many have died and many more will, and there is nothing we can do and nobody who will help."

:: The UK Government last week announced a new round of aid for people displaced in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and called on other nations to do more.

International development minister Alan Duncan said the aid would help up to 250,000 people with emergency food support, 150,000 children with lifesaving nutrition and 170,000 people with health care.

Mr Duncan said: "Yemen's partners and the wider community must respond to this humanitarian crisis but also deliver longer term support to address the root causes of the problems the country faces and help it start to rebuild after years of internal conflict and political instability."

Britain is spending £28m on humanitarian aid for Yemen in the financial year 2012/13, up from £20m the previous year.