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Yemen Is Still Being Starved to Death

Food imports into Yemen have reached an all-time low [1]:

NRC secretary general Jan Egeland called the situation in Yemen “a gigantic failure of international diplomacy”.

“Nowhere on earth are as many lives at risk,” said Egeland at a news conference in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

“We are not even sure that the main humanitarian lifeline through the port of Hodeida will be kept open,” said Egeland.

“This makes Yemen the largest food security crisis in the world.”

Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and tens of millions are at risk of dying from starvation and preventable disease. There has undoubtedly been a failure of international diplomacy and international institutions in this case, but more than that the crisis is the result of the deliberate efforts of many governments, including ours, to batter and starve a poor country into submission. The creation of a major man-made famine in Yemen is not some unforeseen accident. It is mostly the predictable outcome of a series of horrible policy decisions made by coalition governments and their Western supporters.

First, the coalition intervened and escalated an existing conflict so that it became much more destructive and severe than it would have been, then they blockaded the country and greatly exacerbated the country’s food insecurity, and then their bombing campaign has systematically devastated the country’s infrastructure and economy and brought Yemen’s health care system to the point of collapse. All of this was done with the full support and active assistance of the U.S. and Britain. The governments most responsible for this disaster are also the ones with the means to prevent it from getting worse, but until now they have shown little interest in doing so.

All parties to the conflict have shamefully used food as a weapon, but it is the coalition air and sea blockade that has taken such a massive toll on a country that relies heavily on imported food and medicine. It is their bombing campaign that destroyed the cranes at Hodeidah, and that has brought the delivery of what little does come in to a crawl. Hadi’s government further compounded the problem by moving Yemen’s central bank to Aden, which has made it much harder for importers to arrange financing in the first place. The food that does make it into the country is now far too expensive for most people to buy, and distribution of aid is also hindered by the ongoing conflict.

In another report, Egeland is quoted again [2]:

“When people have no income and the prices of food in the market have tripled, hungry people can only afford to look at the food in the market. They cannot afford to buy it,” Egeland said, adding that there were no food stocks left in Yemen [bold mine-DL].

“There are no reserves, there are no warehouses there like in many of the other wars I have visited. Everything goes straight into hungry mouths,” he said.

Yemen is facing massive loss of life from famine and disease unless current trends and policies are quickly reversed. The U.S. can and should withdraw all support for this atrocious war. Beyond that, Washington should also insist on an end to the coalition blockade and press for an immediate cease-fire to allow for the unfettered delivery of humanitarian aid wherever it is needed regardless of which side happens to control the territory. That is the very least that the U.S. can do after two years of disgraceful enabling of this disaster.

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5 Comments To "Yemen Is Still Being Starved to Death"

#1 Comment By Chris Chuba On May 3, 2017 @ 2:59 pm

The KSA is using food as a weapon. The Houthis control 80% of the populated areas of Yemen and there have already been 60,000 malnutrition related deaths above and beyond the combat deaths.

Even if Iran is sending some weapons to the Houthis the disproportionate impact on civilians does not justify the blockade. This is a war crime by U.N. standards as well as article 3 of the Geneva convention regarding the treatment of non-combatants.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are participating in a war crime. How does this not fit the definition of genocide? The Saudis are targeting non-Sunnis for mass starvation.

#2 Comment By watchers On May 3, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

Yes, Yemen is still being starved to death, and we are still enabling it. But there are a growing number of Americans aware of what’s going on and ashamed of our role, and eventually that may add up to something. We know about it solely thanks to you and a handful of others who have refused to let it pass beneath notice, as the disgusting “mainstream media” has done, first under Obama and now under Trump.

#3 Comment By John_M On May 3, 2017 @ 7:29 pm

The situation is bad – and will almost certainly get worse. It is my understanding that the major underground reservoirs in Yemen are expected to start running out in the near future – at which point Yemen, even if it were at peace, would have great difficulty feeding itself. As it is, too much of the agricultural effort has been going into growing khat for domestic and export consumption.

#4 Comment By Chris Chuba On May 4, 2017 @ 7:19 am

John_M, if khat is being grown for export then the Yemenis would be able to buy food.

There is a principle of economics that land is used for the most valuable purpose. Why should a farmer use land to grow wheat that he can sell for 10% of the value that he can get for growing khat? He can obviously grow khat and then buy imported wheat.

If the Yemenis really are using their own resources foolishly that’s their own problem but that in no way justifies foreign powers using force to impose a blockade.

#5 Comment By Sara On May 9, 2017 @ 11:46 am

Chris Chuba, I am an aid worker in Sana’a. I can say from first hand observation that the situation here has nothing to do with principles of economics.

First, only 4% of Yemeni land is arable. This has been a country of traders, not farmers, for centuries. The country imports 90% of its food. So land use not really a major factor.

More importantly, as this article points out, Yemenis aren’t starving because of “using resources foolishly”, they are being starved. And it’s not just a question of de facto strangulation of imports (that stops just short of a blockade), it is the destruction of the economy due to multiple factors, all related to the conflict, that leaves many people unable to afford the food that makes it in.

Sana’a itself is full of middle-class people, professors and civil servants who haven’t been paid in 8 months, sneaking out of their houses under cover of dark to rummage through garbage because they are too ashamed to ask for or accept charity (this is a culture of proud people). I can’t even describe what things are like now for the people who started out poor before this war.