HODEIDA, YEMEN — The “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” is now more dire than ever according to a new report from the U.K.-based charity Save the Children, which warns that 5.2 million children now face starvation in Yemen.
The group’s warning comes as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the U.K. and the U.S., launched a new campaign to capture the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on Tuesday. Over 90% of Yemen’s food is imported through Hodeida, prompting the charity to warn that any disruption to food and fuel supplies coming through the Hodeida port “could cause starvation on an unprecedented scale.”
Save the Children reported earlier this month that it expected at least 36,000 children in Yemen — an average of 1,600 children every day — to die from extreme hunger by the end of the year.
The alarming statistics come four months after the UN warned that 18.4 million people in Yemen were set to face starvation by this December. However, sustained Saudi-led coalition attacks on Hodeida as well as its continued “scorched earth” tactics targeting Yemeni civilians has meant that the actual number of starving Yemenis will likely surpass that estimate before the year is over. Indeed, 17.8 million residents of the war-torn country already require emergency food assistance.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Save the Children’s CEO, warned that the effects of the nutrition crisis in Yemen present other dangers beyond the lack of food itself:
The nutrition crisis in Yemen has serious implications. Millions of children don’t know when or if their next meal will come. In one hospital I visited in north Yemen, the babies were too weak to cry, their bodies exhausted by hunger. This could be any hospital in Yemen.
Severely malnourished children are 12 times more likely to die from preventable diseases like pneumonia, measles, cholera or diphtheria. Children who are stunted suffer physical and often irreversible long-term cognitive damage. It’s essential that children get the food they need to survive and thrive.”
Indeed, children in Yemen are dying at an alarming rate from preventable disease, a combination of extreme food insecurity and the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade, which has prevented the import of the medicine needed to treat such diseases. As a result, the country has fallen victim to the worst cholera epidemic in history, which the UN recently forecasted is about to get even worse as Yemen is “on the cusp of the third wave” of yet another mass cholera outbreak.
Given that Yemen’s malnourished children are particularly susceptible to disease, the number of Yemeni children dying from preventable diseases like cholera, diphtheria and others has reached dramatic proportions, claiming the lives of 66,000 children annually. This alarming situation, as Thorning-Schmidt concluded, “risks killing an entire generation of Yemen’s children.”
Despite the clear and pressing danger that this humanitarian crisis presents to the entire civilian population of Yemen and particularly to Yemen’s children, the Saudi-led coalition shows no signs of backing down on its campaign to bring the country to its knees. Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), who is widely believed to be the “mastermind” behind the war, vowed last month to continue targeting women and children throughout Yemen in order to “leave a big impact on the consciousness of Yemenis [for] generations” so that “their [Yemen’s] children, women and even their men to shiver whenever the name of Saudi Arabia is mentioned.” MBS’ comments came shortly after the coalition bombed a school bus in Yemen, killing over 40 children.
Since the war began in early 2015, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have targeted weddings, hospitals, water and electricity plants and have killed and injured thousands. In July, 43% of the coalition strikes targeting Yemen were non-military (i.e. civilian sites) even though, since June, the U.S. has been aiding the coalition in “fine tuning” their target lists.
Even though the recent bombing of the school bus and other civilian targets has resulted in an increase in international scrutiny, the U.S. “rubber stamped” the coalition’s bombing campaign earlier this week despite the Saudi-coalition’s continued targeting of civilian infrastructure, including buses and water treatment facilities.
With Yemen now risking the loss of an entire generation due to the coalition’s actions, those continuing to aid and to arm the coalition are undeniably complicit in the “unprecedented” starvation and suffering of Yemen’s children.