UN: At Least 400,000 Yemeni Children Under Five Could Starve to Death in 2021

February 15th, 2021 - by Dave DeCamp / AntiWar.com & Iona Craig / The Guardian

New UN|Report Says over 2 Million Yemeni Children May Endure Acute Malnutrition

Dave DeCamp / AntiWar.com

 (February 12, 2021) — The UN warned on Friday that at least 400,000 children in Yemen could die of starvation this year if the war doesn’t end and aid does not reach areas suffering severe food shortages. 

A report released by four UN agencies projected that acute malnutrition in the country will rise by 22 percent from 2020, and 2.3 million children will endure acute malnutrition, with one out of six — 400,000 — expected to die if conditions don’t change. The report said about 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women in Yemen could also face acute malnutrition.

The report was issued by the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. “These numbers are yet another cry for help from Yemen, where each malnourished child also means a family struggling to survive,” said David Beasley, the head of the WFP. 

The report explained that in 2020, agencies in Yemen only received $1.9 billion of the $3.4 billion needed to operate, causing the shuttering of some food programs. “But there is a solution to hunger, and that’s food and an end to the violence,” Beasley said.

The alarming report comes after President Biden pledged he would end all US support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen and halted planned bomb sales. Since 2015, the US-backed Saudi-led coalition has regularly targeted civilians and infrastructure in Yemen, including food supplies.

The Biden administration is also seeking a diplomatic solution to end the fighting in Yemen. Timothy Lenderking, Biden’s new special envoy for Yemen, is in Saudi Arabia this week to push for an end to the war.

The vicious bombing campaign has been coupled with a land, sea, and air blockade of Yemen. Questions remain over whether or not the US will still support the blockade.

As Coronavirus Rips Through Yemen, Saudi Bombs Continue to Fall

Cluster bombs are taking a toll on Yemen’s children.

Dave DeCamp  / AntiWar.com

(June 22, 2020) — With an already shattered medical infrastructure due to the five-year US-Saudi siege, Covid-19 has rapidly spread through Yemen. The Arab country lacks the basic necessities for preventative measures like clean water, and a population facing malnourishment is especially vulnerable to the disease. A recent uptick in Saudi bombing might put a country already on the brink of collapse over the edge.

Last week, Saudi warplanes pounded Yemen’s capital Sanaa, in what residents called the worst airstrikes they have seen since the first years of the war. Seventy-seven airstrikes hit several provinces in north Yemen within 24 hours. According to the Houthi’s health ministry and NGOs on the ground, one of the strikes hit a car traveling in the Sadaa province and killed 13 civilians, including four children.

The Saudi-led coalition denies killing any civilians in the strike in Sadaa and claims the vehicle was carrying legitimate Houthi military targets. But the UN’s investigation of the airstrike seems to point to civilian deaths. In a statement last week, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said initial field reports indicate at least 12 civilians, including four children, were killed in the airstrike. Grande called the strike a “terrible, unjustified attack.”

The coalition has good reason to deny the killing of civilians, especially children. The same day the news broke about the airstrike in Saada, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed the Saudi-led coalition from a list of parties that harm children in conflict zones. The UN chief said the coalition would “be delisted for the violation of killing and maiming, following a sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to airstrikes.” While the worst of the bombing occurred in the early days of the war, bombs continue to fall on civilians and children regularly in Yemen.

In February 2020, a coalition airstrike killed over 30 civilians, a group that included children, according to the Houthis. The February airstrike was retaliation against the Houthis for downing a Saudi warplane in the Jawf province, but like many airstrikes in Yemen, civilians paid the price. 

A 45-day ceasefire to aid the coronavirus response was agreed to by both sides, which ended on May 23rd. Saudi airstrikes continued in this time, with bombings averaging five per day, and according to the Yemen Data Project, by the end of May, the rate of airstrikes returned to pre-ceasefire levels. In May, 53 percent of the targets the Yemen Data Project could identify were civilian targets, and at least three civilians were killed. Twenty-two air raids hit residential areas, seven strikes hit farms, and one hit a school. 

In his report to the UN Security Council, Guterres said the US-backed Saudi-led coalition killed or wounded 222 children in 2019. The report also said the Houthis were responsible for 313 such casualties, and the forces of ousted President Abd-Rabbu Monsour Hadi, who the Saudis are fighting to put back in power, were responsible for 96 casualties. The Houthis and Hadi’s forces both remain on the UN’s children and armed conflict blacklist. 

The increased airstrikes will likely exacerbate the coronavirus outbreak Yemenis are facing. A recent study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicts that up to 10 million people could be infected with coronavirus in Yemen, with between 62,000 and 85,000 deaths. The numbers represent the worst-case scenario, but with most Yemenis unable to regularly wash their hands, and only half of the country’s health care facilities functioning, the outbreak could reach such distressing levels. 

Official numbers only put the number of confirmed cases in Yemen at 922 and the number of deaths at 254, but with the lack of medical infrastructure, there is no way of knowing the real figures. Reports out of the port city of Aden indicate the death rate is much higher than being recorded.

In the first two weeks of May, the city recorded 950 deaths, nearly four times as high as the 251 deaths Aden saw in the whole month of March. It looks like May was the spike for the virus in Aden, government officials said the death rate for the city was down by 43 percent in the first 16 days of June.

On top of the coronavirus pandemic, Yemenis have suffered from the largest modern-day cholera outbreak. Since 2016, millions have been infected with cholera, and thousands have died. This is a direct result of the US-Saudi war on the country and serves as a window into the brutal tactics used to pacify Yemen.

Treatment for cholera can be as simple as drinking clean water or taking antibiotics, but the Saudi-led coalition has regularly targeted water infrastructure, causing the disease to explode. According to the Yemen Data Project, from 2015 to 2020, warplanes from the Saudi-coalition have hit 97 water infrastructure targets in Yemen.

On top of the airstrikes and disease, Yemenis face acute food shortages, with 24 million people reliant on aid (about 80 percent of the population), and 10 million facing famine. The UN predicts soon over 17 million Yemenis will be “dealing with acute food insecurity.” To make matters in the country even worse, multiple aid organizations recently announced cuts to programs in Yemen. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended aid to parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthis, which is where 70 percent of the country’s population lives. 

In April, the World Food Program (WFP) cut the amount of food going into Houthi-controlled areas by 50 percent. These cuts come as the UN ended or reduced about 75 percent of its operations in Yemen. Both USAID and WFP cite Houthi obstruction as the reason for cutting aid. While Houthi obstruction may be an issue, aid organizations have previously had success negotiating with the Houthis.

Cutting aid over political issues highlights the danger of the US-Saudi naval blockade on Yemen, which essentially gives complete control to powers hostile to the Houthis of what goes in and out of the country. And whether Washington and Riyadh like it or not, the Houthis are the government in the areas where most Yemenis live, and those Yemenis are in dire need.

US support for the Saudi-led coalition is one of Washington’s greatest shames of the 21st century and a bipartisan shame as it was started under the Obama administration and eagerly continued by President Trump. While there have been valiant efforts to end the war in Congress, through vetoes, the Trump administration has ensured US support for the genocidal war will continue. Most recently, the administration announced the sale of $478 million in precision-guided missiles to the Kingdom.

Over 110,000 people have been killed directly by violence in Yemen since Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE, and other Gulf countries started the war in 2015. The UN released a report in April 2019 that said if the conflict ended that year, it would have accounted for 233,000 deaths, the majority of deaths being children under five. Experts agree, if the US cuts off all support for the Saudi’s barbaric war, it would swiftly come to an end. The UN already called the situation in Yemen, “the World’s worst humanitarian crisis,” with coronavirus spreading the nightmare is only getting worse. It is time for the American people to demand an end to the war.

Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars.

Bombed into Famine: How Saudi Air Campaign Targets Yemen’s Food Supplies

Sources of food are a lifeline in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but are being targeted by the Saudi-led coalition

Iona Craig / The Guardian

HODEIDAD and SANA’A (December 12, 2017) — t 11.30pm, 10 nautical miles off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast, seven fishermen were near the end of the four hours it had taken to haul their nets bulging with the day’s catch into their fibreglass boat. Suddenly, away from the illumination of the vessel’s large spotlight, one of the men spotted a black silhouette coming towards them.

Moments later a helicopter began circling overhead. The fishermen were well within the 30 nautical mile boundary they had been warned not to cross by leaflets airdropped on land by the Saudi-led coalition. But, without warning, gunfire erupted from the helicopter. 

Osam Mouafa grabbed his friend, Abdullah, dragging him into a corner, curling himself into a protective ball as bullets flew through the boat. Shot in both knees, with a third bullet having grazed his thigh, Osam began to feel water rising around him. “The boat became like a sieve,” he said, sitting next to the wooden stick he now needs to walk.

By the time the onslaught stopped, the captain – a father of eight – and Abdullah were dead. Another crew member, Hamdi, was deafened and paralysed down one side after being hit in the head by shrapnel. All bleeding heavily, the five survivors frantically began bailing water out of the sinking boat.

The partially submerged vessel, with the fishermen’s clothes plugging the holes, drifted at sea for 15 hours until another boat rescued them, towing them ashore.

Since Saudi Arabia launched its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died. More than 250 fishing boats have been damaged or destroyed and 152 fishermen have been killed by coalition warships and helicopters in the Red Sea, according to Mohammed Hassani, the head of the fishermen’s union in Yemen’s western port of Hodeidah. 

“They have declared war on fishermen,” said Hassani. More than 100 miles further south in the port of Mocha, fishermen have been barred from going out to sea since the Houthi-Saleh forces, who the Saudi-led coalition have been fighting for more than two and half years, were pushed out by Yemeni fighters backed by a coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, in February.

Yemen’s fishing industry has become an ever more vital lifeline for a country in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than eight million Yemenis are now facing famine after Saudi Arabia tightened a blockade on the country on 6 November. Restrictions were slightly eased on 26 November, allowing some aid in for the 20 million Yemenis relying on humanitarian support. But aid agencies have predicted mass famine if key ports such as Hodeidah remain closed to commercial imports.

Yemen relies on maritime imports for more than 80% of its annual staple food supplies. Although staples remain available, the Saudi-imposed import restrictions, combined with a rapidly depreciating currency, mean food prices have sky-rocketed. Government salaries have gone unpaid since August 2016 and an estimated 55% of the workforce have been laid off due to the conflict. Millions of Yemenis can no longer afford to buy food, forcing them into the more than 75% of the population who are in need of humanitarian assistance.

In the district of al-Rawda in northern Sana’a, farmer Yahya Abdu Taleb stopped cultivating his land after a bomb from an airstrike landed in a field less than 50 metres from his house. Fortunately for the family, the missile failed to explode.

Standing in the now fallow farmland, Yahya watches a team from Yemen’s national demining programme extract the missile buried some 10ft into the soil.

“I have three wells on my land. But now I don’t grow anything,” he said. When food prices started to rise, he went to rebuild the polytunnels needed to grow vegetables in the extreme mountain temperatures of Yemen’s arid northern highlands. But his neighbours begged him to stop. “The Saudis target them [the polytunnels]. They were afraid the planes would come back, bomb us and kill their families.”

Nine-year-old Zahara Taleb used a mobile phone to film the bomb being winched out of her father’s farmland next to their home. “I want to make sure it’s gone so I don’t have to be afraid anymore,” she said.

Ali al-Mowafa, heading the team from the NDP working to remove the unexploded ordnance in al-Rawda, said British, American and Italian-made bombs were identified among 12 missiles that failed to explode from one night when 52 bombs hit the district last August.

Research on the pattern of bombing, carried out by emeritus professor Martha Mundy at the London School of Economics, concluded that in the first 17 months of the Saudi-led bombing campaign there was “strong evidence that coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution” in areas controlled by the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh was killed by Houthi forces in Sana’a last week, days after declaring he had switched allegiances. 

Data on coalition airstrikes collected by the Yemen Data Project have recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites from March 2015 to the end of September 2017.

The UK’s de-facto deputy prime minister Damian Green has defended the British government’s continued support of weapons sales to the kingdom on the grounds that “our defence industry is an extremely important creator of jobs and prosperity”, while also highlighting Britain’s role as “the fourth largest humanitarian donor to Yemen”.

The British government has approved more than £4.6bn in fighter jets and arms sales to Saudi Arabia since their Yemen bombing campaign began. British military officers are also providing targeting training to the Royal Saudi Airforce.

May said she would demand Saudi Arabia immediately end its blockade during her recent visit to the kingdom. It remains in place.

Attacking Yemenis’ ability to provide food for themselves has been described as a “blatant violation of international laws” by aid agencies. 

Despite the prospect of imminent mass famine, this strategy is being used to put greater pressure on the Houthis in lieu of failed efforts by the Saudi coalition to bomb the Iranian-aligned rebels into submission over more than two years. 

Yemen analysts also point to the policy as a more appealing option for the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who also holds the role of minister of defence, than deploying thousands of loosely aligned, highly factional troops to attempt a precarious forced takeover of the Houthi-controlled capital.

“There are voices in the coalition and Yemeni government who view economic levers as a potential means of putting pressure on the Houthis and of pressuring people living under the Houthis into rebelling or expressing greater discontent against them as conditions worsen,” said Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Destruction of access to food and water constitutes a war crime,” Mundy of the LSE noted in a paper published in September by the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition. 

“But who is to prosecute when the same international organisations and national states, which stood aside for months of bombardment and blockade, now play the role of humanitarian intervention to save Yemenis from famine and cholera?”

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