Starving Yemeni Children Versus Bloated US Weapons Makers
December 16, 2016 Medea Benjamin / AntiWar.com & Al Jazeera<
While the world is transfixed on the epic tragedy unfolding in Syria, another tragedy -- a hidden one -- has been consuming the children of Yemen. Battered by the twin evils of war and hunger, every ten minutes a child in Yemen is now dying from malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory-tract infections. According to a new UNICEF report, at least 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition with 2.2 million in need of urgent care.
Starving Yemeni Children,
Bloated US Weapons Makers Medea Benjamin / AntiWar.com
(December 15, 2016) -- While the world is transfixed on the epic tragedy unfolding in Syria, another tragedy -- a hidden one -- has been consuming the children of Yemen. Battered by the twin evils of war and hunger, every ten minutes a child in Yemen is now dying from malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory-tract infections.
A new UNICEF report shows over 400,000 Yemeni children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Without immediate medical attention, these children will die. The situation is so dire that over half of the entire nation's 25 million people lack sufficient food.
Why are so many of Yemen's children going hungry and dying? Since 2014 Yemen has been wracked by a civil war, a war that has been exacerbated by outside intervention from Saudi Arabia. In March 2015, the Saudi government became involved in the internal conflict in neighboring Yemen because it was worried that a more pro-Iran faction -- the Houthis -- would take over the government.
Since then, with US weapons and logistical support, the Saudis have been pounding Yemen. This 20-month-old Saudi bombing campaign has not only killed thousands of innocent Yemenis, but sparked a severe humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Middle East.
"The only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict. That means pushing harder for a political solution and calling for an immediate ceasefire."
Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and the war, including a Saudi naval blockade and bombing of the country's main port, has made it difficult to import food and sufficient humanitarian supplies. The war has left millions of people unemployed and over two million displaced. These families don't have income to buy food, while food prices have soared because of the shortages.
UN and private relief organizations have been mobilizing to respond to the crisis, but a staggering 18.8 million people need humanitarian assistance, and the situation is only getting worse. At the same time, the UN Refugee Agency has received less than half the funds it needs.
The nation's health system is on the verge of collapse. Less than a third of the country's population has access to medical care and only half of the health facilities are functional. Local health workers have not been paid their wages for months and aid agencies are struggling to bring in lifesaving supplies. Diseases such as cholera and measles are spreading, taking a heavy toll on children.
The only way to end the humanitarian crisis is to end the conflict. That means pushing harder for a political solution and calling for an immediate ceasefire.
The Yemen crisis should also serve as a prime moment for the US government to reconsider its alliance the Saudi regime. Ever since the founding of the kingdom in 1932, US administrations have allied themselves with a government that beheads nonviolent dissidents, forces women to live under the dictates of male guardians, treats foreign workers like indentured servants, and spreads the intolerant Wahhabi version of Islam around the world.
Today, Saudi Arabia is also a regime that funds Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Iraq, crushes democratic uprisings in neighboring countries like Bahrain, and is waging a catastrophic war in Yemen.
Despite the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, US governments have not only supported the Saudis on the diplomatic front but militarily. Under the Obama administration, this has translated into massive weapons sales of $115 billion.
While Yemeni children are starving in large part because of Saudi bombings, US weapons makers, including General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, are making a killing on the sales.
Concerned over the high rate of civilian casualties caused by the Saudi bombings in Yemen, on December 12 the White House took the rare step of stopping a Raytheon sale of 16,000 guided munition kits valued at $350 million. This is a great step forward, but it represents only a small fraction of total US weapons sales to the Saudi regime.
In fact, at the same time the White House announced it was blocking this $350 million sale, the State Department announced plans to sell 48 Chinook cargo helicopters and other equipment worth $3.51 billion.
The US military is also supporting the Saudis in a variety of other ways, including providing intelligence, weaponry and midair refueling, as well as sending US warships to help enforce a blockade in the Gulf of Aden and southern Arabian Sea. The blockade was allegedly to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Houthis, but it also stopped humanitarian aid shipments to beleaguered Yemenis.
Moreover, while an executive order stopping a weapons deal is a positive move, a Trump administration might well restore all sales. That's why it's important for Congress to step forward and take a stand.
Congress has the right to stop any weapons sales authorized by the State Department but normally lets the deals go forward uncontested. Congress came close to stopping a Saudi purchase of cluster bombs, a particularly egregious weapon banned by the international community, with a vote of 204 for the ban and 216 against it.
President Obama eventually called for a halt to the cluster bomb sales and soon thereafter, the only US company still producing cluster bombs, Textron, announced it would stop production.
In September 2016, the Senate, led by Senators Chris Murphy and Rand Paul, introduced a bill to stop a $1.15 billion sale of hundreds of US-made tank structures, machine guns, grenade launchers and armored vehicle structures. Only 27 Senators voted in favor of the ban.
It's clear why US weaponsmakers want to keep selling weapons to the Saudi regime. For them, it is all about profits. But the US Congress should take a moral stance. Selling weapons to a repressive regime should never be allowed.
And today, when these weapons are leading to the death of a Yemeni child every ten minutes, the sales are simply unconscionable. The time to stop them is now.
Medea Benjamin is the founder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange and the author of nine books, including the recently released Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.
UNICEF: One Child Dies Every 10 Minutes in Yemen Al Jazeera
(December 12, 2016) -- More than 400,000 children are at risk of starvation in Yemen, with nearly 2.2 million in need of urgent care, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF. New figures indicate that hunger among children has reached an "all-time high", with at least 462,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition -- a drastic increase of about 200 percent since 2014.
In a report published on Monday, UNICEF said at least one child dies every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory-tract infections.
"The state of health of children in the Middle East's poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today," Meritxell Relano, the agency's acting representative, said in a statement. "Malnutrition in Yemen is at an all-time high and increasing."
Severe acute malnutrition is a major cause of death for children under the age of five, and is apparent when a child has a very low weight for their height and becomes visibly frail and skeletal. Saada governorate, the most heavily bombed region in Yemen, has the world's highest stunting rates among children, affecting eight out of 10 in some areas, it said.
Stunting -- where a child is short for their age -- is another sign of chronic malnourishment and has irreversible consequences for both physical health and cognitive function.
Other governorates -- Hodeida, Taiz, Hajjah and Lahej -- were also badly affected after 20 months of war, UNICEF said. The Arabian Peninsula country has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Iran-allied Houthi fighters, in cooperation with troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
A coalition assembled by Saudi Arabia launched an air campaign against the fighters in March 2015. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and millions driven from their homes. The conflict has also taken a devastating toll on Yemen's health system which is on the verge of collapse, UNICEF says in the report.
Humanitarian groups have struggled to deliver aid to large parts of the country owing to the fighting and air strikes, with the medical aid charity Doctors Without Borders calling the situation "extremely challenging".
Several medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed209185, with the Arab coalition blamed for raids on medical centres, schools, mosques, factories and homes.
The coalition has also imposed a sea blockade on Yemen and air strikes have led to a virtual lockdown of Sanaa.
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