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Yemen’s Worsening Humanitarian Crisis

Yemeni child eats ready-to-use therapeutic food bag in 2017. Credit: UNICEF/USAID/Flickr

The U.N. issued a new warning this week about acute malnutrition among Yemen’s youngest children that threatens to kill nearly 100,000 children under the age of five:

“Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food security crisis. If the war doesn’t end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the country.

“Acute malnutrition among children is hitting the highest levels we have seen since the war started.”

The people of Yemen have been starved for the last five and a half years by a combination of Saudi coalition blockade, economic war, and bombing. The crisis has worsened recently because of shortfalls in international funding, rising prices, and the suspension of U.S. aid to Houthi-controlled areas where the overwhelming majority of Yemenis live. Humanitarian relief organizations called for a resumption of U.S. aid earlier this year to no avail. Restoring that aid is imperative if our government is to help stave off a worse disaster that has resulted from an indefensible policy of backing this war.

The worsening conditions in Yemen are preventable, but it will require sufficient funding to keep the aid projects going:

Funding shortfalls have disrupted the implementation of many aid projects, including emergency food assistance. Malnutrition treatment programs also could be curtailed if funds are not received soon. As of mid-October, only $1.43 billion of the $3.2 billion needed in 2020 had been received, the UNICEF press release said.

U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Lisa Grande said the inability to increase humanitarian efforts in Yemen because of insufficient funding is “heartbreaking.”

The misguided use of humanitarian relief funding to punish the Houthis is only harming innocent and powerless people. The civilian population always bears the brunt of these heavy-handed pressure tactics, and so it is again in Yemen.

The country’s health care system has been similarly ravaged by the conflict and overwhelmed by multiple outbreaks, including COVID-19 over the last six months. Most of the population cannot get proper treatment because half of all facilities have been destroyed or damaged:

The World Health Organization warns nearly 18 million people in Yemen are unable to get treatment for deadly diseases because years of war, economic distress and a chronic shortage of money have led to a collapse of the country’s healthcare system.

More than five years of escalating conflict have devastated Yemen’s economy and ability to provide enough food and medical care to keep its population healthy.

World Health Organization officials report only half of the country’s health facilities are fully functioning. And those that remain open suffer from severe shortages of qualified staff, essential medicines and supplies.

A shortfall in funding for the WHO is making matters worse, and if nothing is done another nine million people will lose health services this year:

Jasarevic says WHO is critically short of money to fund its humanitarian operation. He says the agency has received less than half of the $164.5 million it needs. Unless money is urgently received, he warns nine million people will lose access to basic health care services by the end of the year.

In addition, he says as many as 18 million people, including six million children will be deprived of the life-saving vaccines to immunize them against deadly diseases such as measles and polio.

Yemen suffers from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and it is an entirely man-made crisis. The principal cause of this crisis is the U.S.-backed war. Our government must halt its support for the Saudi coalition and resume its former aid funding. The U.S. has helped drive Yemen towards the abyss, and it is incumbent on our government to help pull them back from the edge.

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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