Five million children face famine in war-torn Yemen

Updated 20 Sep 2018

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A map shows areas in risk of famine in Yemen.— AFP
A map shows areas in risk of famine in Yemen.— AFP

SANAA: More than five million children are threatened by famine in war-torn Yemen as prices soar, a charity said on Wednesday, warning an entire generation may face death and “starvation on an unprecedented scale”.

The three-year conflict between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels linked to Iran has pushed the already impoverished country to the brink of famine, leaving many unable to afford food and water.

“Millions of children don’t know when or if their next meal will come,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, head of Save the Children International. “This war risks killing an entire generation of Yemen’s children who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera.”

The already dire humanitarian situation is being exacerbated by the battle for the lifeline port of Hodeida, which is threatening what little aid is trickling into the country.

“Any disruption to food and fuel supplies coming through Hodeida port could cause starvation on an unprecedented scale,” said Save the Children. Located on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, the port city of Hodeida is controlled by the rebels and blockaded by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

At a hospital in Abs, north of Hodeida, skeletal children cried as they were tended to and weighed by doctors and nurses, an AFP photographer reported.

“The humanitarian situation is very fragile,” David Miliband, head of the New York-based International Rescue Committee, told AFP as he wrapped up a visit to Yemen on Wednesday.

“My takeaway in three days in Yemen is that the humanitarian imperative doesn’t just demand better flow of goods and better access for humanitarian workers,” said the former British foreign secretary. “It also demands a ceasefire to allow the peace process to proceed.”

The World Food Programme last year said food had become a “weapon of war” in Yemen, where fighting, cholera and looming famine have created what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Having already identified four million children at risk of starvation, Save the Children said an extra one million could now face famine as the Hodeida battle escalates.

A total of 5.2 million children across Yemen are now at risk of starvation, the Britain-based charity said. “In one hospital I visited in north Yemen, the babies were too weak to cry, their bodies exhausted by hunger,” said Thorning-Schmidt.

Food prices in some parts of the country have doubled in just a few days, and the non-governmental organisation said families faced impossible choices on whether to pay to take a sick baby to hospital at the expense of feeding the rest of the family.

The United Nations this week said food prices were up a whopping 68 per cent since 2015, when a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia joined the government’s war against the Houthi rebels.

The cost of a food basket, which contains pantry staples and canned goods, has increased by 35 per cent and cooking gas and fuel prices by more than 25 per cent in the past year, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018