A Washington Post headline recently declared, “85,000 Yemeni children have starved to death during the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.” Yet this humanitarian crisis for many still needs context.
With settlements in its northern mountains as early as 5000 BC (BCE), Yemen has long been a crossroads of cultures on the Arabian Peninsula. In the early 20th century, it was divided between the British and Ottoman empires, with South Yemen becoming a British colony—the Aden Protectorate—until 1967. The two parts united in 1990 to form the Republic of Yemen.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the new country badly for years. He finally stepped down in early 2012 and was replaced by his vice-president, A.M Hadi.
In 2014, Saleh helped the Houthi militias, assisted by the Iranian regime in another one of its proxy wars against Saudi Arabia, to overthrow a legitimate Yemeni government and take over the country. President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in early 2015, following which the Saudis formed a coalition that started massive air strikes against the Houthis that in many cases killed civilians. In 2017, Saleh announced his attention to abandon the Houthis, who soon afterwards assassinated him.
The war has blocked essential food imports, leading to the current famine across the country. A lack of safe drinking water, caused mainly by the destruction of the country’s water infrastructure, has led to an outbreak of cholera, with the number of suspected cases now approaching an astonishing one million.
In 2016, the United Nations reported that Yemen was then the country with the most people in need of humanitarian aid. It warned last month that up to 14 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine. Fighting escalated in 2015 when the Saudi war coalition launched an air campaign against the Houthi rebels, which in turn forced President Hadi to flee abroad.
At least 6,800 civilians have been killed and 10,700 injured in the war, according to the UN. Aid workers in Yemen say many deaths go unreported because only half of the country’s health facilities function and many are too poor to access ones that remain open. Rising food prices and the falling value of the country’s currency as a result of the civil war are also leaving more families at risk.
A blockade of the port of Hudaydah is placing more people in danger of famine, with the continued heavy fighting around it. The rebel-held port, through which the country has traditionally imported 90 percent of its food, has seen commercial imports fall by more than 55,000 metric tonnes a month.
The international charity Save the Children calculates that approximately 84,700 children died between April 2015 and October 2018. It bases these figures on mortality rates for untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition in children under five.
The charity adds that it was forced to bring supplies for the north of Yemen through its southern port of Aden, which has significantly slowed aid deliveries. Based on historical studies, it estimates that if acute malnutrition is left untreated about 20-30 percent of Yemen’s children will die each year. “For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it’s entirely preventable,” said the charity’s Yemen director Tamer Kirolos.
Kirolos stresses: “Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop…Parents are having to witness their children wasting away, unable to do anything about it.” He warns that an estimated 150,000 children’s lives are at risk in Hudaydah with “a dramatic increase” in air strikes over the city in recent weeks.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths is in Sanaa this week for talks with the Houthi rebels in a bid to create a groundwork for peace talks to take place in Sweden. The visit comes after a lull in violence was broken recently, with fighting erupting between the Saudi coalition and Houthi rebels in Hudaydah.
The United Kingdom presented a draft resolution last week to the UN urging an immediate truce in the port city and giving both sides of the conflict a two-week deadline to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid. The responsible international community should stand together.
Dr. Abdulla Nasher, a former health minister in Yemen and earlier its ambassador to Canada, urges the international community to stop the war, end hunger, and start a country rebuilding project like the Marshall Plan funded by the United States for Germany from 1948 to 1961.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chrétien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Latin America and Africa) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.