10-year-old boy who weighed just 10kg dies with country on brink of famine

A 10-year-old boy who weighed just 10kg (22lbs) has died in Yemen with the country on the brink of famine.

UNICEF confirmed the young child called Adam had died less than 24 hours after Sky News published an article about his devastating plight.

He had been too weak to get out of his hospital bed by himself when aid workers came to his bedside last week.

They reported that he was crying and found it difficult to breathe, with his tiny chest heaving with the effort.

Adam was one of 400,000 children in Yemen suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Lying in hospital in the city of Hodeida before his death, he should have been able to focus on his recovery.

Adam with his sister. Pic: Unicef
Image:
The little boy, who also had a brain condition, with his sister. Pic: UNICEF

But as fighting in the Yemeni port city continues – with almost 100 airstrikes falling on it this weekend alone – the conflict moves closer and closer to Al Thawra hospital.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said the fighting is now “dangerously close” and is “putting the lives of 59 children, including 25 in the intensive care unit, at imminent risk of death”.

Heavy bombing and gunfire could be heard from Adam’s hospital bed.

Juliette Touma, chief of communications for UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa region, travelled to Yemen between 29 October and 3 November.

She has spent 16 years working in the region but said meeting Adam would never leave her.

Half of Yemeni children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. This baby is being treated at Al Thawra hospital. Pic: Unicef
Image:
Half of Yemeni children under five are chronically malnourished. Pic: UNICEF

“Adam was not able to utter a word,” she told Sky News.

“All he did was to cry in pain without tears but making the sound of pain.”

Geert Cappelaere, regional director of Unicef Middle East and North Africa office, also met Adam before the child’s death on Saturday.

Paying tribute to the youngster, he said: “Rest in peace Adam.

“Adam was very sick and he also had severe malnutrition. Al Thawra hospital… where Adam died is now in the line of fire.

“Adam is one of 400,000 severely malnourished children in Yemen. They – like Adam – might also die, any minute. May his soul rest in peace.”

During Ms Touma’s most recent trip, she was most struck by the extent children are suffering in the region.

Half of Yemeni children under the age of five are chronically malnourished. Some 30,000 Yemeni children die every year with malnutrition as one of the most important underlying causes.

Locals worry constantly about money and being unable to buy food, Ms Touma said.

“Poverty is very visible, people are just exhausted,” she said.

Civil servants, including doctors and teachers, have not been paid for more than two years and the devaluation of the currency means that despite food being on sale in markets most families cannot afford to buy it.

Adam, who also had a brain condition and shared his ward with other severely malnourished children, was unable to access health care until his family were able to save up to afford the transport to take him there.

Ms Touma believes if it was not for the intervention of organisations like her own “the situation is likely to have been even worse, much worse”.

A girl at Al Thawra hospital, where Adam is being treated. Pic: Unicef
Image:
A girl at Al Thawra hospital, where Adam was being treated. Pic: UNICEF

She added: “”It is literally lifesaving for many, many children.”

Fighting in the port city risks cutting off the vital line organisations like UNICEF use to get nutrition, medicine and vaccines to those living there.

“It’s critical that the port continues to function,” she said, adding: “It’s a life-line for Yemen.”

News of Adam’s death comes as a group of 14 international non-governmental organisations, including Save the Children, Care and Action Against Hungry, signed a joint statement saying “as an urgent priority, civilians and children in particular in and around Hodeidah must be protected from the direct and indirect impact of the fighting.”

They call for urgent peace talks led by the UN special envoy and for the UN security council to adopt an “unequivocal resolution” to stop the violence.

Ms Touma said the only way to save the citizens of Yemen is for fighting to end.

She said UNICEF “welcomes the generosity from governments and individuals, including in the United Kingdom” and that it enables organisations like her own to deliver aid and training to the war-torn country.

“However, generosity alone is not enough and is a band-aid,” she explained.

“What is needed right now – today, not tomorrow – is for those fighting on the ground and those who have influence over them to reach an agreement to end the conflict in Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia and allies have been fighting in Yemen for more than three years against Iran-backed Houthis rebels, who control much of northern Yemen including the capital Sanaa and drove a Saudi-backed government into exile in 2014.

The UK and US have been criticised for providing logistical and military support to the Saudi-led coalition.

On Tuesday, Mr Hunt used some of his strongest language yet to put pressure on the Saudi-led coalition.

“For too long in the Yemen conflict, both sides have believed a military solution is possible, with catastrophic consequences for the people,” he said in a statement.

“Now for the first time there appears to be a window in which both sides can be encouraged to come to the table, stop the killing and find a political solution – that is the only long-term way out of disaster.”

Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance.

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