Home/Daniel Larison/The Saudi Coalition’s Starvation of Yemen Hasn’t Ended

The Saudi Coalition’s Starvation of Yemen Hasn’t Ended

The AP has published an extensive, important report on the dire and worsening conditions in Yemen. The report focuses on the widespread malnutrition and starvation in the country caused in large part by the Saudi coalition blockade:

Around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished [bold mine-DL]; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Mizrah.

Nearly a third of Yemen’s population — 8.4 million of its 29 million people — rely completely on food aid or else they would starve. That number grew by a quarter over the past year.

Aid agencies warn that parts of Yemen could soon start to see widespread death from famine. More and more people are reliant on aid that is already failing to reach people.

As the report says, more than eight million are on the brink of famine, and millions more are malnourished and therefore much more vulnerable to illness. The crisis in Yemen is entirely man-made, and the Saudi coalition bears a huge share of the responsibility for creating it. Each day that they impede the delivery of commercial goods and humanitarian aid is another day that Yemen’s civilian population can’t get the food and other essential goods they need to live. In addition to the threat of massive loss of life, the long-term destructive effects on the health and development of an entire generation of Yemenis will be severe.

Both the U.S.-backed coalition bombing campaign and blockade are to blame:

The war has shattered everything that kept Yemen just above starvation. Coalition warplanes blasted hospitals, schools, farms, factories, bridges and roads.

The coalition has also clamped a land-sea-and-air embargo on Houthi-controlled areas, including the Red Sea port of Hodeida, once the entry point of 70 percent of Yemen’s imports. Now far less gets in as coalition ships off shore allow through only UN-inspected and approved commercial ships and aid, often with delays.

What little that does get in is often so expensive that it isn’t affordable for most Yemenis. Humanitarian aid can’t substitute for normal commercial imports, and as long as the blockade is in place Yemen can’t import nearly enough of what it needs. Since Yemen relied on imports for 90% of its goods, the blockade has had the disastrous effect that opponents of the intervention predicted it would have when it was first imposed three years ago. The only real solution to the humanitarian crisis is to lift the blockade that is responsible for causing so much harm.

Most of the deaths from Yemen’s humanitarian crisis are invisible to the outside world because they go uncounted:

It is unknown how many have died, since authorities are not able to track cases. Save the Children late last year estimated that 50,000 children may have died in 2017 of extreme hunger or disease, given that up to 30 percent of children with untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition die.

At least tens of thousands perished last year alone, and more are perishing now, and all of these deaths were from preventable causes of hunger and disease. We can’t know yet just how many lives have already been lost in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but we can reasonably assume that almost all of these deaths could have been prevented if the civilian population weren’t being deprived of essential food, medicine, and fuel. We can also be sure that many more thousands will perish needlessly from preventable hunger and disease if things remain as they are.

Compounding Yemen’s woes is the likelihood of a fresh outbreak of cholera this spring:

Yemen is likely to be hit by another outbreak of deadly cholera within months, Unicef’s Middle East director has warned on the eve of the third anniversary of the country’s civil war.

More than 1 million children were infected by cholera last year due to lack of access to water and vaccination. Unicef’s Geert Cappelaere said one child every 10 minutes was dying from preventable diseases in Yemen.

“Let us not fool ourselves. Cholera is going to come back,” he said on Sunday. “In a few weeks from now the rainy season will start again and without a huge and immediate investment, cholera will again hit Yemeni children.”

Widespread malnutrition makes the civilian population much more vulnerable to preventable diseases, including cholera, and many Yemeni families have to choose between food or medicine because they cannot afford both. Half of Yemen’s medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed in the course of the war, and many that remain are understaffed because no one is getting paid. The conclusion of the AP report gives us a glimpse of the plight of Yemen’s people:

In the area’s main town, al-Mallah, doctors were nowhere to be seen at the hospital. No one pays them so many staffers often don’t show up.

Sitting in bed, Umm Molham was so weak she could barely lift her 13-month-old son. When the AP met her, she had been at the hospital for three days waiting for someone to examine him.

The toddler had been vomiting, coughing and suffered from diarrhea. The family can only afford to give him formula once a day. His body is emaciated, his eyes sunken, his belly

His mother sat helplessly, the baby in her lap.

“She is not breastfeeding,” said her husband, Anwar Said. “She doesn’t eat well and has no milk.”

Umm Molham didn’t say a word, even when asked questions, lost in her internal world of frailty and hunger.

The AP report is the sort of excellent, detailed coverage of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis that we should be seeing all the time, but unfortunately it is quite rare. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is the most important story in the world, but even now it is still mostly ignored. It is critical that the starvation of Yemen’s people receive the extensive and frequent coverage that it deserves in order to put necessary pressure on the coalition governments and their Western patrons to stop it.

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles