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The Destruction of Yemen

The New York Times Magazine has published an extensive and excellent report on the war on Yemen and the background to it. Here the reporter, Robert Worth, recounts the effects of the Saudi coalition blockade and bombing campaign:

The coalition’s blockade on Yemen, which began as soon as the war started, frequently bars or delays shipments of food and essential medical supplies. This might amount to a war crime, human rights groups say. I spoke recently to a Yemeni importer I have known for years, who complained bitterly about persistent and needless Saudi obstruction of wheat shipments. He saw these as deliberate and vindictive acts that have only worsened hunger in a desperate population [bold mine-DL]. At the same time, Yemen’s currency has lost most of its value, and food prices have surged. The Saudis also block all commercial flights from Sana, making it extremely difficult for Yemenis with serious illnesses to get out of the country or receive the treatment they need.

The combined effect of the war and these artificial shortages is visible at hospitals all over the country. Outside the front doors of Jumhuriya Hospital, in Sa’ada, I walked past a dozen skeletal bodies sprawled on cots or on the ground. The hospital had no room for these sick and wounded people. Most of the province’s health clinics have been demolished by bombs. Inside the building, the smell hit me first: a reek of old food, sweat, urine and medicine. On the second floor, passing an open door, I looked in and glimpsed a brown puddle of vomit. Even the walls were smeared with grime. Everywhere, women in head-to-toe black clutched infants. One of them spoke to me in a faint voice: Her baby, 20 months old, was being treated for malnutrition. All four of her children were malnourished, but this one was the youngest and in the most danger. “There is bombing near our house — we cannot get food,” she said. “We eat potatoes.” A staff member told me that most of the mothers were themselves suffering from malnutrition and could not provide milk for their newborns. Some families were reduced to eating leaves, he said.

The horrifying conditions in Yemen are the product of deliberate policy choices made by the Saudi coalition and their Western patrons. Countless innocent children have been deprived of basic necessities for years, and many tens of thousands of them have perished as a result, because of a disgraceful effort to starve the country into submission. Now up to 14 million people are on the brink of starvation. That is greater than the population of the Los Angeles metro area, and it accounts for half of the population of Yemen. That many people are at serious risk of dying from hunger because the Saudis and Emiratis won’t give up on a war that has achieved nothing and can’t be won. The U.S. has provided unconditional support for that war until now. We can hope that is starting to change, but it probably won’t change unless Congress votes to cut off all support for the coalition. Our government’s involvement in this war is deeply shameful and indefensible, and it should have come to an end long ago.

NBC News also recently reported on the famine conditions in the country:

Bhatnagar says the fighting that is raging in Yemen is killing an “entire generation of children,” who are bearing the brunt of the violence.

“Thousands are so malnourished they don’t even have the energy to cry,” he said [bold mine-DL].

U.N. is assessing whether the crisis in Yemen can officially be declared a famine, with initial results expected next month.

“An official famine declaration would only confirm what we already know: Children are already dying from starvation,” said Frank McManus, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Yemen. “Famine, by definition, means it’s too late.”

Widespread malnutrition is affecting children all over the country, but they are suffering most in Saada and along the western coast:

A 2016 survey in the Sa’ada highlands found that 78 percent of infants suffered from stunting, or chronic malnutrition. The acute form of malnutrition is prevalent here, too, but it is even worse along Yemen’s western coastline, Unicef officials told me. There, the naval blockade has made fishing impossible, cutting local people off from the staple of their diet. Even if the war ends tomorrow, the damage done to those children who survive — stunted growth, more frequent disease, mental deficits — will persist for many decades [bold mine-DL].

The possibility of massive loss of life in Yemen has overshadowed the reality that the war’s long-term negative effects on the health and development of entire generations of Yemenis are going to be devastating no matter what else happens. We can’t yet know the full extent of the disaster that has engulfed Yemen, but the people are going to be living with the consequences of this nightmare for decades to come. The Yemen Data Project has calculated that there have been 18,000 coalition airstrikes over the last three and a half years between the start of the bombing campaign and the end of September, and roughly a third of them have been on civilian targets. Even if the worst-case scenario of mass starvation is avoided, tens of millions of Yemenis will live with the wounds and traumas of this war for the rest of their lives.

The terrible effects of the war on Yemen’s children are not limited only to malnutrition and cholera:

Another, little-noticed measure of this war is a jump in birth deformities and child cancer. A striking number of children in the hospitals I visited seemed to have birth defects of one kind or another. One Houthi fighter in Sana showed me a printed diagnosis of his 1-year-old child, which said the boy had a “tumor mass largely replacing most of” his left kidney. The fighter looked at me pleadingly: There had never been cancer in his family, he said.

Thousands and thousands of airstrikes have likely exposed civilians to toxic substances, and the population will be living with the aftereffects of these attacks for many years. The governments responsible for wrecking and starving Yemen ought to be required to make reparations and rebuild what they destroyed. Many millions of innocent people may die if conditions do not dramatically improve, and those that survive will have to live with a wrecked and poisoned country that was destroyed for nothing.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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