Yemen facing the worst famine in 100 years

26th Oct 2018
Yemen facing the worst famine in 100 years

A malnourished baby receives medical treatment at al Sabeen Maternal Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/ Anadolu Agency)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The United Nations (UN) has warned that Yemen could be facing the worst famine in 100 years if the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes are not stopped in the next three months.

Lise Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen told the BBC if the civil war continues, famine could engulf the country, with 13 million civilians at risk of starvation. According to Save the Children more than 50,000 children in Yemen died from starvation during 2017.

“I think many of us felt as we went into the 21st century that it was unthinkable that we could see a famine like we saw in Ethiopia, that we saw in Bengal, that we saw in parts of the Soviet Union – that was just unacceptable.

“Many of us had the confidence that would never happen again and yet the reality is that in Yemen that is precisely what we are looking at,” said Grande.

The famine is the direct result of the Saudi-led blockade. Yemen was already the most impoverished nation in the Gulf but the war and the naval blockade by the Saudi-led coalition and the United States Navy made the situation much worse.

Yemen has been in the grip of a civil war for three years. Thousands of civilians have been caught in the middle. The resulting humanitarian catastrophe has seen at least 10,000 people killed and millions displaced.

Speaking on October 14, Grande said: “There’s no question we should be ashamed, and we should, every day that we wake up, renew our commitment to do everything possible to help the people that are suffering and end the conflict.”

Her comments came after the UN and humanitarian workers condemned an airstrike in which the Saudi-led coalition targeted Yemen’s rebels, killing at least 15 civilians near the port city of Hodeidah.

Five members of the same family were among those killed, adding that many children were among the casualties.

“The United Nations agencies working in Yemen unequivocally condemn the attack on civilians and extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims,” said Grande.

She added: “Under international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are obliged to respect the principles of precaution, proportionality and distinction. Belligerents must do everything possible to protect civilians not hurt, maim, injure or kill them.”

Hodeidah, with its key port that brings in humanitarian aid, has become the centre of Yemen’s conflict, with ground troops allied to the coalition struggling to drive out the rebels controlling it. According to Save the Children the Saudi-led airstrikes on the port killed 349 civilians between June and September.

The killing and maiming of civilians including many children in the Red Sea city have soared in the last three months according to aid workers.

Since June more than 170 people have been killed and at least 1,700 have been injured in Hodeidah province, with more than 425,000 people forced to flee their homes.

In September Save the Children warned the fighting was turning into a “war on children” with thousands suffering life-changing injuries in the attacks.

On a visit to Yemen the charity’s CEO, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, warned attacks on schools and hospitals were on the rise, with children on the frontline of violence and medics unable to cope with the influx of the wounded.

“Things are getting worse, not better, in Yemen … It means that we have 400,000 children who are on the brink of famine. They suffer from severe acute malnutrition, which is the most extreme form of hunger,” said Thorning-Schmidt.

She added, “I’ve met some of those children. I sat with a baby in my arms, she was eight months old – she weighed the same as a newborn – and I think that if we hadn’t been able to help her mother and that child that week, she would have not lasted the week…That’s what famine looks like.”

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