War, Famine, and Disease Plague Yemen
Content warning: death, war, terrorism
In 2017, 50,000 children lost their lives due to war in Yemen. Now, as the UN reports, Yemen faces a famine, which is expected to put 5 million children at risk of starvation. For almost three years Yemen has endured civil war between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed forces who support Yemen’s former government. The Houthi rebels have been fighting for terms surrounding political and economic demands. By the end of this year, the country may be facing “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years,” says Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Seventy-five per cent of the population is in need of assistance, but fighting near the main port Hodeidah is blocking the distribution of vital supplies.
In September 2014, the Houthi rebel group overtook the capital Sana’a and tried to seize Yemen’s second largest city, Aden, in order to overthrow the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In response to the Houthi’s actions, a coalition backed by neighbouring country Saudi Arabia, launched airstrikes in an attempt to restore Yemen’s official government. These missiles, as well as other weapons and intelligence, came from the USA and the UK. Without this support, it would be difficult for Saudi Arabia to continue the war. The US has also claimed to have deployed a small number of troops on the ground, and France and the UK are also supplying the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and intelligence. Although Canada has provided upwards of $65 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen, it has also sold more than $284 million in weapons to the countries that are bombing Yemen. As a result of the war, both Al- Qaeda and ISIL have spread within the country; Al- Qaeda has taken over territory in the south of Yemen, while ISIL has launched an attack killing more than 140 people. The bombing operations have killed tens of thousands of people and caused the displacement of over 3 million. Many members of the US Congress, as well as humanitarian organizations, have called for the US and others to be charged with war crimes for the crisis in Yemen. Yemen’s people and economy are suffering greatly because of the war; the price of food has doubled, and the nation’s currency, the Yemeni riyal, has collapsed.
The war has taken a great toll on an already impoverished society. Airstrikes are killing civilians in hospitals and schools; most of the casualties are children. In August of this year, a Us-backed Saudi missile hit a bus carrying children killing at least 29 children and wounding 30 more. Now, citizens of Yemen face famine and an outbreak of cholera. “We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” said Lowcock to the UN’S Security Council. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.” Last year, the UN declared that Yemen had seen “the world’s worst cholera outbreak,” with a million suspected cases in December 2017 and 5,000 new cases being reported each day — over 2,300 lives have been lost. Even though Yemen has since reduced and recovered somewhat from the disease, the World Health Organization has reported that the country is about to face a third wave of cholera.
The fighting near the port of Hodeidah is making it nearly impossible to get any sort of aid to citizens. Understaffed and under- equipped health centres are noticing a spike in the amount of malnourished patients they come across. In August, Aslam’s health centre saw up to 99 cases of malnutrition, half of which were in the most severe stages. The UN is trying to raise more money and resources for the people of Yemen, but Lowcock claims that “humanitarian organizations simply cannot look after the needs of all 29 million Yemenis. That is untenable.”