Yemen's starving mothers

The young mother stepped onto the scale for the doctor. Even with all her black robes on, she weighed only 84 pounds — 38 kilograms. Umm Mizrah is pregnant, but starving herself to feed her children.

And her sacrifice may not be enough to save them.

The doctor’s office is covered with dozens of pictures of emaciated babies who have come through Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, casualties of a three-year war in Yemen that has left millions of people on the edge of famine.

Mothers like Umm Mizrah are often the only defense against the hunger that has killed thousands. They skip meals, they sleep to escape the gnawing in their stomachs. They hide bony faces and emaciated bodies in voluminous black abaya robes and veils.

The doctor asked the mother to get back on the scale holding her son, Mizrah. At 17 months, he was 5.8 kilograms (12.8 pounds) — around half the normal weight for his age.

He showed all the signs of “severe acute malnutrition,” the most dire stage of hunger. His legs and feet were swollen, he wasn’t getting enough protein. When the doctor pressed a finger into the skin of his feet, the indentation lingered.

Around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Mizrah.

Nearly a third of Yemen’s population — 8.4 million of its 29 million people — rely completely on food aid or else they would starve. That number grew by a quarter over the past year. (AP)

Photography by Nariman El-Mofty/AP

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<p>Aisha, a Yemeni woman, holds up her emaciated 9-month old daughter, Galila, who suffers from malnutrition and malaria, at the Stabilization Nutritional Therapeutic center in al-Khoukha, Yemen, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. Galila weighed 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds), compared to the average of 6 to 8 kilograms (13-17 pounds) for a 9-month-old girl. Her mother is tiny as well, ravaged by giving up food for a family that is constantly growing. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Aisha, a Yemeni woman, holds up her emaciated 9-month old daughter, Galila, who suffers from malnutrition and malaria, at the Stabilization Nutritional Therapeutic center in al-Khoukha, Yemen, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. Galila weighed 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds), compared to the average of 6 to 8 kilograms (13-17 pounds) for a 9-month-old girl. Her mother is tiny as well, ravaged by giving up food for a family that is constantly growing. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni mother, reveals her collarbones and emaciated ribs to be photographed, in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo at Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen. Umm Mizrah, who is nearly into the second trimester of pregnancy, weighs 38 kilograms (84 pounds) and is severely undernourished. She has been eating one meal a day trying to feed her youngest son, who is badly malnourished. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni mother, reveals her collarbones and emaciated ribs to be photographed, in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo at Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen. Umm Mizrah, who is nearly into the second trimester of pregnancy, weighs 38 kilograms (84 pounds) and is severely undernourished. She has been eating one meal a day trying to feed her youngest son, who is badly malnourished. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 11, 2018 photo, damages due to the war at the Ibn Kholdoon Hospital, in Lahj, Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 11, 2018 photo, damages due to the war at the Ibn Kholdoon Hospital, in Lahj, Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Umm Molham, a Yemeni mother who is herself undernourished, struggles to hold up her malnourished 13-month-old son Molham at the Ibn Kholdoon Hospital, in Lahj, Yemen, in this Feb. 11, 2018 photo. The toddler had been vomiting, coughing and suffered from diarrhea. The family can only afford to give him formula once a day. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Umm Molham, a Yemeni mother who is herself undernourished, struggles to hold up her malnourished 13-month-old son Molham at the Ibn Kholdoon Hospital, in Lahj, Yemen, in this Feb. 11, 2018 photo. The toddler had been vomiting, coughing and suffered from diarrhea. The family can only afford to give him formula once a day. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Galila, a 9-month old Yemeni child who suffers from malnutrition, is weighed at the Stabilization Nutritional Therapeutic center in al-Khoukha, a town on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. The baby girl, who started wasting away after catching malaria, weighed 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds), compared to the average of 6 to 8 kilograms (13-17 pounds) for a girl her age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Galila, a 9-month old Yemeni child who suffers from malnutrition, is weighed at the Stabilization Nutritional Therapeutic center in al-Khoukha, a town on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. The baby girl, who started wasting away after catching malaria, weighed 4.5 kilograms (9.9 pounds), compared to the average of 6 to 8 kilograms (13-17 pounds) for a girl her age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>This Feb. 13, 2018 photo shows photographs of severely malnourished infants hung on wall in the administrative office at the Aden Hospital, in Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

This Feb. 13, 2018 photo shows photographs of severely malnourished infants hung on wall in the administrative office at the Aden Hospital, in Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Mothers and children crowd into a center for treating malnutrition at the main hospital in the town of al-Khoukha, Yemen, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. They left empty-handed: The center has virtually run out of supplies, even as doctors estimate 40 percent of the children in the town suffer from malnutrition. Shifting front lines in the war have cut off aid routes and fighting has driven thousands of people to take refuge in the town. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Mothers and children crowd into a center for treating malnutrition at the main hospital in the town of al-Khoukha, Yemen, in this Feb. 12, 2018 photo. They left empty-handed: The center has virtually run out of supplies, even as doctors estimate 40 percent of the children in the town suffer from malnutrition. Shifting front lines in the war have cut off aid routes and fighting has driven thousands of people to take refuge in the town. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, homeless children stand on the road from Khoukha to Taiz in Yemen. Nearly a third of Yemen’s population _ 8.4 million of its 29 million people _ are one step away from famine. That number grew by a quarter over the past year, as more and more people’s ability to support themselves collapsed. A wider swath of the population, 18 million, needs some sort of food assistance, according to the World Food Program. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, homeless children stand on the road from Khoukha to Taiz in Yemen. Nearly a third of Yemen’s population _ 8.4 million of its 29 million people _ are one step away from famine. That number grew by a quarter over the past year, as more and more people’s ability to support themselves collapsed. A wider swath of the population, 18 million, needs some sort of food assistance, according to the World Food Program. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, Sawda Mohammed Khalil holds her malnourished daughter as they wait for treatment at the al-Khoukha Hospital in Yemen. Doctors estimate 40 percent of the children in the town suffer from malnutrition. Barefoot children fill the center’s corridors, many visibly emaciated, some with malaria or cholera. Some can barely stand. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, Sawda Mohammed Khalil holds her malnourished daughter as they wait for treatment at the al-Khoukha Hospital in Yemen. Doctors estimate 40 percent of the children in the town suffer from malnutrition. Barefoot children fill the center’s corridors, many visibly emaciated, some with malaria or cholera. Some can barely stand. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni woman, holds her son Mizrah on a scale in Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemen city of Aden in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo. Rageh, who is nearly into the second trimester of her pregnancy, weighed 38 kilograms (84 pounds), severely underweight. Mizrah, who was 17 months old, weighed 5.8 kilograms (12.8 pounds), around half the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Umm Mizrah, a 25-year-old Yemeni woman, holds her son Mizrah on a scale in Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemen city of Aden in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo. Rageh, who is nearly into the second trimester of her pregnancy, weighed 38 kilograms (84 pounds), severely underweight. Mizrah, who was 17 months old, weighed 5.8 kilograms (12.8 pounds), around half the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, shows a damaged sign in Arabic that reads, “Yemen,” on the road from Aden to Mocha in Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 12, 2018 photo, shows a damaged sign in Arabic that reads, “Yemen,” on the road from Aden to Mocha in Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Gawad Awad, a severely malnourished Yemeni 4-month-old, lies in the lap of his mother, Heba Ahmed, in the Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen, this Feb. 13, 2018 photo. Gawad weighed 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds). Aden’s hospital is the best supplied in southern Yemen, but many of the other hospitals around the south are short of supplies and under staff, and families with starving children can’t afford to make the trip to Aden. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Gawad Awad, a severely malnourished Yemeni 4-month-old, lies in the lap of his mother, Heba Ahmed, in the Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen, this Feb. 13, 2018 photo. Gawad weighed 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds). Aden’s hospital is the best supplied in southern Yemen, but many of the other hospitals around the south are short of supplies and under staff, and families with starving children can’t afford to make the trip to Aden. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Said Mohammed, whose 8-month-old son Fadl starved to death, visits his son’s grave in the Great Valley outside the Yemeni town of Mocha in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo. Fadl’s mother gave birth to him under a tree as she fled fighting. Eight months later, at the time of his death, the baby boy weighed 2.9 kilograms (6 pounds), a third of the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Said Mohammed, whose 8-month-old son Fadl starved to death, visits his son’s grave in the Great Valley outside the Yemeni town of Mocha in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo. Fadl’s mother gave birth to him under a tree as she fled fighting. Eight months later, at the time of his death, the baby boy weighed 2.9 kilograms (6 pounds), a third of the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>A doctor shows on her mobile phone a photo of Fadl, an 8-month-old Yemeni boy taken in his last days before he starved to death, in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo at a hospital in Mocha, Yemen. Fadl’s mother gave birth to him under a tree as she fled fighting, and ever since she struggled to get him enough food. Eight months later, at the time of his death, the baby boy weighed 2.9 kilograms (6 pounds), a third of the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

A doctor shows on her mobile phone a photo of Fadl, an 8-month-old Yemeni boy taken in his last days before he starved to death, in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo at a hospital in Mocha, Yemen. Fadl’s mother gave birth to him under a tree as she fled fighting, and ever since she struggled to get him enough food. Eight months later, at the time of his death, the baby boy weighed 2.9 kilograms (6 pounds), a third of the normal weight for his age. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Aisha Mohammed holds her son, 7 month-old Ahmed Rashid Mokbel, who is severely malnourished, weighing only 3.3 kilograms (7 pounds), in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo taken at Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. Mohammed herself weighs only 39 kilograms (86 pounds) and has two other malnourished children. After fleeing to Aden from their home near Yemen’s Red Sea coast to escape fighting, she and her husband can barely afford food for the family. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Aisha Mohammed holds her son, 7 month-old Ahmed Rashid Mokbel, who is severely malnourished, weighing only 3.3 kilograms (7 pounds), in this Feb. 13, 2018 photo taken at Al-Sadaqa Hospital in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. Mohammed herself weighs only 39 kilograms (86 pounds) and has two other malnourished children. After fleeing to Aden from their home near Yemen’s Red Sea coast to escape fighting, she and her husband can barely afford food for the family. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Staff measure the middle upper arm of Salima Ahmed Koryat, a 6-month-old Yemeni girl, to test how malnourished she is at the main hospital in Mocha, Yemen, in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo. The girl, whose family fled fighting in the nearby Mowza region, weighed only 4.2 kilograms (9 pounds). (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Staff measure the middle upper arm of Salima Ahmed Koryat, a 6-month-old Yemeni girl, to test how malnourished she is at the main hospital in Mocha, Yemen, in this Feb. 10, 2018 photo. The girl, whose family fled fighting in the nearby Mowza region, weighed only 4.2 kilograms (9 pounds). (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 10, 2018 photo, a boy sits in a damaged car in Mocha, Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 10, 2018 photo, a boy sits in a damaged car in Mocha, Yemen. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Ahmed Rashid Mokbel, a severely malnourished 7-month-old Yemeni boy, is given formula by his mother at the Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen, in this Feb. 13, 2018. The boy weighed only 3.3 kg (7 pounds). The Al-Sadaqa Hospital treats malnourishment cases from across southern Yemen _ those that are lucky enough to get there. Often families in towns and villages can’t afford the trip to Aden and do what they can at home as their starving children deteriorate. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Ahmed Rashid Mokbel, a severely malnourished 7-month-old Yemeni boy, is given formula by his mother at the Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, Yemen, in this Feb. 13, 2018. The boy weighed only 3.3 kg (7 pounds). The Al-Sadaqa Hospital treats malnourishment cases from across southern Yemen _ those that are lucky enough to get there. Often families in towns and villages can’t afford the trip to Aden and do what they can at home as their starving children deteriorate. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>In this Feb. 11, 2018 photo, Sherine, feeds her children scraps of bread dipped in “besbas,” a sauce of tomato and garlic in their mud house in al-Mallah, Yemen. The sharp bones of her face creasing her green veil and her thin body showed otherwise. Her 1-year-old daughter Amal, has been diagnosed with acute malnutrition and can’t support herself on her legs. Her 3-year-old son had malnutrition as a toddler. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

In this Feb. 11, 2018 photo, Sherine, feeds her children scraps of bread dipped in “besbas,” a sauce of tomato and garlic in their mud house in al-Mallah, Yemen. The sharp bones of her face creasing her green veil and her thin body showed otherwise. Her 1-year-old daughter Amal, has been diagnosed with acute malnutrition and can’t support herself on her legs. Her 3-year-old son had malnutrition as a toddler. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni woman, shows the amount of flour she uses to make a loaf of bread, in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo taken in Abyan, Yemen. On the few good days when she or her husband find work, they may have some vegetables. But most often they eat a heavy bread called “tawa” that fills the stomach longer, Yahia said. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni woman, shows the amount of flour she uses to make a loaf of bread, in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo taken in Abyan, Yemen. On the few good days when she or her husband find work, they may have some vegetables. But most often they eat a heavy bread called “tawa” that fills the stomach longer, Yahia said. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Hagar Yahia pours tea for her 5-year-old daughter Awsaf in their hut in Abyan, Yemen in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo. Many families across southern Yemen described how they live largely on bread and sweetened tea, sometimes just once a day. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Hagar Yahia pours tea for her 5-year-old daughter Awsaf in their hut in Abyan, Yemen in this Feb. 15, 2018 photo. Many families across southern Yemen described how they live largely on bread and sweetened tea, sometimes just once a day. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Food hangs in sacks on the wall of the home of a displaced family, in Lahj, southern Yemen, in this Feb. 11, 2018 photo. Many markets in Yemen have food but increasing numbers of people are unable to afford it in the economic collapse caused by the war. That is one reason aid agencies warn that parts of the country will soon fall into outright famine. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Food hangs in sacks on the wall of the home of a displaced family, in Lahj, southern Yemen, in this Feb. 11, 2018 photo. Many markets in Yemen have food but increasing numbers of people are unable to afford it in the economic collapse caused by the war. That is one reason aid agencies warn that parts of the country will soon fall into outright famine. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>This Feb. 15, 2018 photo shows the hut made of tree limbs and rags where Hagar Yahia and her family live in Abyan, Yemen. Her family is among 18,000 people who escaped war zones further west and streamed into Abyan province, a stretch of territory where Yemen’s barren mountains meet the Arabian Sea. There, they join a resident population that is also struggling to feed itself. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

This Feb. 15, 2018 photo shows the hut made of tree limbs and rags where Hagar Yahia and her family live in Abyan, Yemen. Her family is among 18,000 people who escaped war zones further west and streamed into Abyan province, a stretch of territory where Yemen’s barren mountains meet the Arabian Sea. There, they join a resident population that is also struggling to feed itself. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

<p>Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni mother of eight, cries in her hut in Abyan, Yemen in this Feb. 9, 2018 photo. Displaced from their home and scrounging for work, she and her husband can barely afford to buy enough food for their family. “I go hungry for my children. I prefer that I don’t eat so they can,” she said. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP) </p>
Yemen’s starving mothers

Hagar Yahia, a Yemeni mother of eight, cries in her hut in Abyan, Yemen in this Feb. 9, 2018 photo. Displaced from their home and scrounging for work, she and her husband can barely afford to buy enough food for their family. “I go hungry for my children. I prefer that I don’t eat so they can,” she said. (Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

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