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Yemen Starvation

Thousands of children in Yemen are starving to death in the midst of civil conflict

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MOCHA, Yemen (Circa/AP) The baby twitches his legs in pain. He's crying but he is so dehydrated his eyes can't produce tears. His belly is inflated as taut as a balloon. You can easily count the 12 rows of protruding ribs on his rapidly palpitating chest.

The video filmed by a doctor shows 8-month-old Fadl suffering not from disease, but from starvation.

Three years into a civil war, Yemen is starving and could soon start to see widespread death from famine.

Houthi rebels hold the country's north, and a Saudi-led coalition, armed and backed by the U.S., has sought to bomb the rebels into submission with a relentless air campaign in support of the Yemeni government.

Some 400,000 children are fighting for their lives in the direst state of hunger, severe acute malnutrition _ the stage of swollen bellies and twig-like arms that are signs the body is eating away at itself for lack of nutrients and protein.

In Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished, a stage just a step away from that.

Five-year-old Awsaf survives on 800 calories a day from bread and tea, half the normal amount for a girl her age.

Her mother, Yahia Hajar says they are too poor to afford nutritional food. "The children of the neighbors have something to eat but my daughter doesn't eat but bread and tea. I feel saddened."

Gomaa Mohammed a displaced woman from Taiz's Mowza says she can't afford food. "I don't even have a rial. I wish but I don't even have breakfast," she said.

Fadl's mother, Fatma Halabi, recalled the life before the war in their remote village of Mowza, overlooking Yemen's Red Sea coast.

In those days, the family had fish and vegetables often. Her husband, a woodcutter, could make the equivalent of $4 a day.

Mowza was in the hands of Houthi rebels for most of the war. Last year, government forces descended on the area to drive the rebels out.

The fighting and airstrikes sent the population fleeing, most of them scattering across the Great Valley, the arid plain spilling down from the mountains toward the city of Mocha on the Red Sea.

Separated from her husband, Halabi led her four children and two goats across the Great Valley, the arid plain spilling down from the mountains toward the city of Mocha on the Red Sea.

Yemen Starvation
In this Feb. 10, 2018 photo, 6-month old malnourished Salima Ahmed is checked by a nurse, at the Mocha Hospital in Yemen. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

These desolate stretches are historically a site of death. More than 400 years ago, a Muslim ruler forcibly sent almost the entire Jewish population of Yemen here for refusing to convert. Chroniclers say two thirds of them died in the heat and deprivation.

Halabi and the children hid in thorn bushes to avoid artillery and airstrikes along the shifting front line. One day in April last year, she went into labor and, alone, gave birth to Fadl under a tree.

Eventually, she and her husband reunited and settled in an abandoned hut in the valley. They often eat one meal in the morning, and nothing again until the next day.

In nearby Abyan, Ashwaq Mohammed says her family faces the same challenge. "In one day, we skip two meals and eat one meal. Last time, was three days ago when we ran out of food."

The hospital has seen 600 malnutrition cases over the past 10 months, but is so short on supplies it doesn't even have pain relievers for headaches, said one doctor, Abdel-Rehim Ahmed. It has no therapeutic feeding center. None of its doctors have been trained in treating malnutrition.

And Mocha is swelling with 40,000 displaced people.

Left untreated, prolonged malnutrition causes the body to lose its stock of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The body starts to eat itself. The brain struggles to find energy, the heart shrinks, and the skin cracks, exposing the body to infections. The kidney and the liver stop functioning properly, so toxins build up inside the body, leading to a vicious cycle of disease.

Galila Yehia
In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, Nine-month old Galila, who suffers from malnutrition and malaria is weighed at the stabilization Nutritional Therapeutic center in Khoukha, Yemen. The baby girl caught malaria and began to fall in weight. Now she is all of 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds), compared to the average of 6 to 8 kilograms (13-17 pounds) for a 9-month-old girl. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Unable to breastfeed Fadl, Halabi gave him goat or camel milk, which lack the nutrients of breast milk or formula. The newborn kept getting fever and diarrhea, so she repeatedly borrowed money to take him to the hospital in Mocha.

Fadl's last visit to the hospital was Nov. 29. At eight months old, he weighed 2.9 kilograms (6 pounds), a third of the normal weight.

The circumference of his upper arm, a common measure for malnutrition, was 7 centimeters, less than 3 inches. That indicated severe acute malnutrition.

Unable to pay for a hospital stay, Fadl's parents took him home.

He gave his last breath not long after in the arms of his grandmother. His exhausted parents were asleep on the floor. The grandmother woke them and told them their boy was dead.

The only image of Fadl from his short life of hunger and pain is the video, taken by the head of the nutrition center. His parents don't have mobile phones or a camera.

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