Star­va­tion: Ye­men’s most deadly weapon

It’s es­ti­mated that 85,000 chil­dren un­der the age of five have died from acute mal­nu­tri­tion in three years of war in Ye­men. But famine is trag­i­cally once again be­com­ing a deadly weapon of war across the globe While wish­ing the need never ex­isted, I’ve los

The Herald on Sunday - - THE WORLD - By David Pratt Spe­cial re­port

HIS eyes fix­ated me. They bore right into my own, rarely blink­ing, as if read­ing my thoughts. Old eyes they were, not those you would ex­pect of a one-year-old child. They were worldly eyes, damn­ing, ten­der and ter­ri­fied all at the same time. What those eyes had al­ready wit­nessed I could only imag­ine.

What hard­ship, suf­fer­ing, wicked­ness rather than the usual child­hood won­der­ment had seared back through this young­ster’s gaze to give him this look?

His name was Yap Ji Kany, and his whole be­ing seemed to me etched with an­guish.

Per­haps his look came not so much from what he had seen as the pain and hunger this lit­tle boy was clearly en­dur­ing.

I call it the acid test. A child is dy­ing be­fore your very eyes, not on tele­vi­sion, not in a pho­to­graph, but right there in front of you.

While wish­ing the need never ex­isted, I’ve lost count over the years of the times when I also wished oth­ers might wit­ness this for them­selves. Only then per­haps would fewer of us have the ca­pac­ity to turn our gaze away, for I defy any sane per­son to stand be­fore a starv­ing fel­low hu­man be­ing and not feel out­raged and want to help.

That day al­most four years ago when I came across lit­tle Yap Ji Kany was far from a unique ex­pe­ri­ence but for some rea­son stays in my mind.

I’ll never for­get the fev­er­ish sweat that streamed down his face, con­geal­ing where it col­lided with the cream smeared in a vain at­tempt to re­lieve the cor­ro­sive rash of a skin in­fec­tion that had bro­ken out across his face and tiny mal­nour­ished body.

His young mother, Nyaker, was sit­ting on a plas­tic chair with Yap Ji perched on her lap.

Ev­ery­where around them lay the stink­ing open sew­ers and tar­pau­lin tents of Tomp­ing Camp bulging with other hun­gry, dis­placed fam­i­lies.

Nyaker and Yap Ji had come here to Juba, the cap­i­tal of South Su­dan, from the north­ern town of Ben­tiu. War, fear and above all that other horse­man of the apoca­lypse in South Su­dan, hunger, had brought them from Ben­tiu’s mis­ery to this wretched UN Juba com­pound awash with rainy sea­son mud.

Caught in the cross­fire be­tween gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion forces in Ben­tiu, Nyaker, Yap and his broth­ers and sis­ters had at first fled their vil­lage into the bush.

Three days later, what lit­tle money the fam­ily had was spent and the pangs of hunger be­gan to take their toll on the young­sters.

Nyaker had no choice but to steer her chil­dren through the front­line fight­ing and make her way to the camp in Juba in the hope of find­ing food and shel­ter.

“We saw lots of bod­ies, so many dead as we came from the bush into the camp,” Nyaker re­called.

Though com­par­a­tively safe from the fight­ing while in the camp it was now star­va­tion that threat­ened her chil­dren’s health. “Al­ways they are hun­gry, ask­ing about food many times ev­ery day, but what I can do, there is so lit­tle to go round,” Nyaker told me, the des­per­a­tion ev­i­dent in her eyes. Though years have now passed since I met Nyaker and her chil­dren, to­day hunger still stalks South Su­dan.

In this long-suf­fer­ing part of the world there is a lo­cal proverb that says: “When God made Su­dan, he laughed.” The irony of the proverb’s mean­ing is all too true and could just as eas­ily ap­ply to so many parts of the world where hunger is near con­stant and full-scale famine never far away.

Just last week a re­port by the hu­man­i­tar­ian agency Save the Chil­dren es­ti­mated that 85,000 chil­dren un­der the age of five may have died from acute mal­nu­tri­tion in three years of war in Ye­men.

“For ev­ery child killed by bombs and bul­lets, dozens are dy­ing from hunger and dis­ease and it’s en­tirely pre­ventable,” Save the Chil­dren said in its state­ment.

The key phrase here of course is “en­tirely pre­ventable”. Over the past weeks the United Na­tions it­self has warned that 14 mil­lion Ye­me­nis are now on the brink of famine.

What’s more, Ye­men is not alone in fac­ing the scourge of hunger. Ac­cord­ing to the UN’s most up to date fig­ures global hunger has risen over the past three years re­turn­ing to lev­els from a decade ago. Right now a stag­ger­ing 821 mil­lion or one in ev­ery nine peo­ple are hun­gry, mak­ing the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 lit­tle more than a pipedream. While each of the coun­tries af­fected by the threat of famine over the past few years do so be­cause of con­di­tions spe­cific to each of them, war has been a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in ev­ery one. And war as we know is “en­tirely pre­ventable”.

In Ye­men, which the Famine Early Warn­ing Sys­tem Net­work calls “the largest food se­cu­rity emer­gency in the world” per­haps as many as half a mil­lion chil­dren are se­verely mal­nour­ished.

More than any other coun­try, Ye­men demon­strates the hu­man con­se­quences when food ac­cess be­comes a weapon of war. Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than in case of the coun­try’s port city of Hodei­dah, cur­rently the scene of bit­ter fight­ing.

Prior to the war, 80 per cent of all im­ports into Ye­men en­tered through this port. With Ye­men heav­ily de­pen­dent on

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