'Famine' or Not, 36,000 Children have Died in Yemen This Year

Published November 11th, 2018 - 02:01 GMT
Graves for children are dug in Saada, Yemen (AFP/FILE)
Graves for children are dug in Saada, Yemen (AFP/FILE)


The situation in Yemen, already causing the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world today, is deteriorating rapidly thanks to a renewed military offensive to take the vital port city of Hodeidah from the Houthi rebels. More broadly however, deprivation in Yemen has forced the vast majority of the country to rely on humanitarian assistance and has placed 14 million people, half the country, on the brink of famine.

A spokesperson for Save the Children told Al Bawaba that an estimated 36,000 children have died in Yemen according to the organization’s figures. While a famine has not been officially declared in the country, the desperation in Yemen in worse than it has ever been since the beginning of the war in 2015.

What’s missing in most major news coverage is that this is no accident, it is part of the war strategy to besiege Yemen.


The Real Death Count in Yemen

U.A.E.-backed rebels from the Amaliqa Brigade have made steady advances toward and into the port city of Hodeidah. According to Bhanu Bhatnagar, a Save the Children spokesperson, this has already had a tangible impact on the delivery of food and fuel to Yemen.

“While there are still fears that the assault may have a deterring influence on imports, Hodeidah port is still open and operating. However, there has been a decrease in commercial imports, which has resulted in a notable drop in food and fuel entering the country,” Bhatnagar told Al Bawaba.

“In the first half of October, three vessels berthed and discharged their cargo, 35,600 Metric Tons food; 34,736 Metric Tons fuel, at the port,” hundreds of thousands of metric tons less than the 350,000 metric tons of imports the U.N. says Yemen’s people need to stay alive, he added.

Save the Children’s medical facilities in Yemen has struggled to cope with the increasing number of malnourished and starving people in Yemen.


A pro-government fighter looks onto billowing smoke clouds in Yemen (AFP/FILE)

“Save the Children estimates that 100 children on average are dying from starvation every single day—approximately 36,000 in 2018, though this is impossible to verify. Extreme hunger and preventable diseases are taking the lives of far too many children. They are the ultimate victims of this brutal war,” Bhatnagar said.

The U.N. documented 10,000 deaths from the war, but stopped counting in Dec 2016. Since then, the war has intensified and it is likely over 100,000 have died. Despite this, many news outlets persist in citing the outdated U.N. number, misrepresenting the urgency and danger of the war in the process.

A representative from Save the Children spoke to a mother of five who had to sell her home in order to afford food for her children. “She was faced with an impossible choice: homelessness or hunger. She now lives in a tent on the street,” Bhatnagar told Al Bawaba. Her story is not unique. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough food or money to keep the country’s 27 million people alive.

While NGOs and aid organizations have not officially declared Yemen to be experiencing famine, this is partially because they cannot access some areas of acute deprivation thanks to heavy fighting or local authorities prohibiting them from entering.

An Oct 24 report from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) states that “it is impossible for humanitarian organisations working in Yemen to have an overall view of malnutrition across the country. UN agencies and NGOs are unable to implement the large-scale nutrition surveys that would provide the necessary information because many areas of the country are inaccessible to them. This is due to security issues, such as airstrikes and fighting, but also for administrative and political reasons, as access to these regions depends on the goodwill of local authorities.”

In other words, some areas of Yemen may very well be experiencing a famine, and aid organizations cannot reach them to save their lives let alone assess their situation.


The Siege

Workers unload food deliveries in Hodeidah (AFP/FILE)

Most major media coverage of the war in Yemen recites the country’s desperation humanitarian situation but stops short of analyzing exactly why it is all happening.

It is not an accident or collateral damage in an effort to reunify Yemen under one flag. The deprivation is part of the Saudi-led Coalition’s war strategy to besiege Houthi-held areas, cutting them off from the world and forcing the Houthis to the negotiation table.

It is on purpose.

The overall goal of a siege is to slowly deprive those trapped inside of the means to survive and to wait them out. Eventually, the logic goes, they will be forced to surrender once their food and water stores begin drying up. Historically, once this happens, besieged towns have surrendered, or succumbed to a kind of chaotic frenzy, engaging in rioting and even cannibalism.

As the people slowly starve, the trapped forces lose the ability to defend themselves. This appears to be a linchpin in the coalition strategy in Yemen. Only 3% of Yemen’s land is arable, but it has been targeted by hundreds of coalition airstrikes, peaking to nearly 200 strikes in September and October of 2015. As a result, agricultural production in Houthi controlled areas has virtually ceased. In a country that was already depended on imports for 90% of its goods, this has been an utter catastrophe for the people and a striking strategic success for the coalition.

A new, groundbreaking study authored by the World Peace Foundation lays bare the extent of the disproportionate bombing.


A Yemeni surveys the damage of an airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen (AFP/FILE)

According to the report, “If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, headers, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution areas under the control of Sanaa [Houthis].”

The author recorded what each coalition strike targeted, and found that almost half of the bombs hitting Hodeidah and Saada were targeting civilians and their infrastructure. Most of the targeted agricultural infrastructure were farms and livestock, but irrigation and water infrastructure has been hit as well.

Half the farmers in some areas have been displaced, farm equipment was rendered useless either by being destroyed or by not being maintained. Much of the farm equipment in Yemen also relies on fuel, which has been inaccessible for many due to skyrocketing prices and the ongoing blockade.

As a result, farmers reported lower yields, inefficient production, empty fields, and no financial help from the state. Using state-of-the-art missiles and systematic techniques, the coalition has razed the farmlands of northern Yemen, destroying what little ability the people had to grow their own food.

This has made the civilian population totally dependent on imports, which have been periodically blocked by the coalition who, in turn, control most of the air and sea ports. The coalition totally choked off Yemen for weeks starting in November 2017, denying any ship or plane entry into Yemen’s ports. Even though the total blockade has been lifted, a partial blockade is ongoing: delayed shipments, double-inspections, and all-out denials of aid have contributed to the siege.


Western Partners in Blacking Out Yemen

A KC-46 performs a refueling (U.S. Air Force)

To continue the siege, Saudi and the U.A.E. need the support of the U.K., U.S. and France who are the three biggest weapons and intelligence suppliers to the war effort. Without them, they would lack the resources necessary to shut down the country.

Their support thus far has been unflagging.

The U.K. has provided more than $5 billion in arms sales to Saudi since the war began in 2015.

The U.S. has given billions more, and President Donald Trump continues to cite an elusive $100 billion arms deal to Saudi as a justification to maintain their close working partnership while human rights concerns pile up. The U.S. has provided mid-air refueling to Saudi jets so they can strike targets quicker without returning to airbases. Hours after the U.S. announced it would halt the refueling missions, investigative journalists from Yahoo learned of a classified plan for the U.S. to continue supporting the Coalition called Operation Yukon Journey.

The U.S. has also provided exact coordinates to the Saudi-led Coalition of civilian and cultural targets, reportedly so that the jets know not not to bomb them. Instead, many of those precisely marked areas have been hit.

Politicians and NGOs are building pressure to end international support for the besiegement of Yemen, warning of an impending famine, but the real crisis is already here, and tens of thousands of people have been dying.

History has judged those responsible for previous besiegements to be barbaric and ruthless: history will likely judge the contemporary siege of Yemen in the same way.

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