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Hunger crisis in Yemen highlights importance of food and healthcare security

After three years of conflict, the humanitarian situation in Yemen only continues to worsen. The war, which is fought between the Saudi-led coalition supporting the incumbent regime with American supplies and the Houthi rebels, has claimed nearly 50,000 lives. The factions have made it difficult for aid groups and humanitarian organizations to reach vulnerable populations, causing a famine that has devastated the country. It is estimated that 17.8 million Yemeni, over half of the population, are food insecure, and an additional 8.4 million are unaware of where their next meal will come from. According to a UN report, 400,000 children are at risk of dying daily due to lack of sufficient food sources.

“There are in Yemen during any given year, 1.8 million children suffering from acute malnutrition,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said during a November 4 press conference. “400,000 children on any given day suffering from a life-threatening form of severe acute malnutrition. Forty per cent of these 400,000 are living in Hodeida and in neighbouring governorates where the war is raging.”

In October, the New York Times reported on a seven-year-old girl who was brought to a Yemeni hospital due to extreme malnutrition. Throughout the article, graphic images showcased the ails of a people entrapped in an oft overlooked conflict to a separated American population. The extent of the food crisis and its impact was striking, and prompted outcry from readers. Last week, the Times published a follow-up article which informed those concerned that the girl had died. The hospital in which she was receiving care was unable to hold her due to an influx of other patients. Despite the presence of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders only 15 miles away, high gas prices didn’t allow the impoverished family to make the trek.

“I had no money to take her to the hospital,” the girl’s mother told reporters. “So I took her home.”

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been exacerbated by a lack of food and medical security. Import bans sustained by Saudi troops have reportedly made it impossible for many aid organizations to reach Houthi-controlled areas and the vulnerable population within. Over 75% of the country – 22 million people – are dependent on humanitarian aid and countless are unable to receive an adequate amount. This dependency has not only led to the ongoing famine but to vulnerable people having virtually no resilience to the spread of illnesses thought to be modernly obsolete. 

“In Yemen today, every 10 minutes, a child is dying from diseases that can be easily prevented,” said Cappelaere. “Unfortunately, the situation being bad, being incredibly dire, is just further deteriorating. We mentioned the war, but there is also the economic crisis with less and less essential commodities affordable for the majority of Yemenis.”

In addition to aid dependencies, the absence of critical infrastructure that provides safety has directly led to civilian deaths. In 2016, a massive cholera outbreak occurred in Yemen and has since caused over 2,500 deaths. This October, the crisis accelerated to over 10,000 diagnosed cases a week. The illness, which is spread via contaminated water, is especially prevalent in areas where water is not adequately treated and/or not in ready supply. Bombings have damaged water treatment and sanitary plants that supply water to major population centers in Houthi-held areas, putting those populations at an increased chance of contracting the disease. Also at risk are refugee camps for the internally displaced, due to limited water and food sources.

“As an international community we have been shamefully slow to act to end the crisis in Yemen,” said Cappelaere. “We have watched the situation deteriorate to the point that Yemen is now on the brink of man-made famine and facing the worst cholera epidemic in the world in decades.”

Several humanitarian organizations have been able to access those most in need. Doctors Without Borders has over 1,600 staff members across Yemen, and runs 13 hospitals, aiding in an additional 18. Their work has helped increase healthcare security, and has provided treatment to numerous individuals suffering from the cholera epidemic. Islamic Relief USA, which also operates in Houthi-controlled areas, delivers food, medical supplies, and helps establish small business ventures inside Yemen. This is done through the a special program established on the basis of educating and training a vulnerable population in vocational skills. These organizations promote and increase food and medical security, helping a population surrounded by conflict.

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Houthi Who? – Foreign Affairs

The humanitarian situation in Yemen deteriorates every hour – ReliefWeb

As Saudi-coalition expands Yemen war, UN says famine accelerating – Al Jazeera

The Tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s War – The New York Times

Yemen Girl Who Turned World’s Eyes to Famine Is Dead – The New York Times

Here’s how you can send help to people trapped in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – PRI

Outbreak update – Cholera in Yemen, 11 October 2018 – ReliefWeb

Yemen cholera outbreak accelerates to 10,000+ cases per week: WHO – Reuters