SANAA, Yemen — As the world focuses on the crisis in Syria, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition continues its war on Yemen, targeting the civilian population with starvation and the destruction of infrastructure crucial for survival.
At least 10,000 people have died in the conflict, mostly civilians, but a looming hunger crisis could drive that toll far higher.
“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” declared Torben Due, country director for the World Food Program, in a Oct. 25 report from the U.N. News Service.
According to a WFP investigation into hunger carried out in June, some 14.1 million Yemeni, or 51 percent of the population, are food insecure, many of them children. The WFP estimates it will need to care for about 700,000 children under five, pregnant women, and nursing mothers in order to prevent “moderate acute malnutrition.” Also known as wasting, this condition can cause severe, long-lasting effects on children’s cognitive and physical development.
The crisis in Yemen, along with conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and elsewhere, has prompted the United Nations to request a record-breaking $22.2 billion in humanitarian aid for 2017, the news service reported on Monday.
Jim Clarken, the chief executive of the humanitarian NGO Oxfam in Ireland, accused the Saudi-led coalition of deliberately targeting the civilian population through starvation. In a report published Wednesday, Clarken explained the situation to the Irish news website BreakingNews.ie:
“Yemen is being slowly starved to death. First there were restrictions on imports – including much need food – but when this was partially eased the cranes in the ports were bombed, then the warehouses, then the roads and the bridges. This is not by accident – it is systematic.”
The Saudi military, supported by a coalition of other Middle Eastern states and backed by U.S. military assistance, began the attack in March 2015, a few months after the Houthis took power in Yemen in a coup.
Fergal Keane, a BBC reporter in northern Yemen, reported on Tuesday that child malnutrition rates have increased 200 percent since the conflict with the Houthis broke out in 2014. According to U.N. data, 3.3 million people have been internally displaced by fighting and 19.4 million lack access to clean drinking water or sanitation.
“Key roads and bridges are frequently attacked, making the delivery of assistance even more difficult,” Keane wrote.
Some 51 percent of hospitals and other medical facilities have also been rendered inoperable by the war. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization reported that there are critical shortages of doctors in about 40 percent of the country. Of 276 districts in Yemen surveyed by the WHO, 49 had no doctors available at all.
An anonymous human rights activist from Yemen who tweets as @Living_Yemen and volunteers with a local NGO called Your Ability Organization, warned that Yemeni children are dying of preventable diseases and that even a cold or fever can become deadly due to malnutrition and the lack of available medical care.
“Emotionally it’s a never ending pain with an entire generation of children scarred for life,” the activist wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday.
At best, attempts by the U.N. to negotiate peace look uncertain. On Tuesday, the exiled government of Yemen rejected a proposed roadmap to peace, which called for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to relinquish his power in return for the Houthis ceding control of key cities.