Children starving in Yemen

UN seeks billions to avoid vast ‘man-made’ famine

28 February, 2021 12:00 AM printer

SANAA/NEW YORK: Ahmadiya Juaidi’s eyes are wide as she drinks a nutrition shake from a large orange mug, her thin fingers grasping the handle. Her hair is pulled back and around her neck hangs a silver necklace with a heart and the letter A.

Three weeks ago the 13-year-old weighed just nine kilograms (20 pounds) when she was admitted to al-Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital Sanaa with malnutrition that sickened her for at least the past four years. Now she weighs 15 kilograms.

“I am afraid when we go back to the countryside her condition will deteriorate again due to lack of nutritional food. We have no income,” her older brother, Muhammad Abdo Taher Shami, told Reuters.

They are among some 16 million Yemenis - more than half the population of the Arabian Peninsula country - that the United Nations says are going hungry. Of those, five million are on the brink of famine, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warns.

On Monday the United Nations hopes to raise some $3.85 billion at a virtual pledging event to avert what Lowcock says would be a large-scale “man-made” famine, the worst the world will have seen for decades.

More than six years of war in Yemen - widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran - have sent the impoverished country spiraling into what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Some 80 percent of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of five severely malnourished, according to UN data. For much of its food, the country relies on imports that have been badly disrupted over the years by all warring parties.

“Before the war Yemen was a poor country with a malnutrition problem, but it was one which had a functioning economy, a government that provided services to quite a lot of its people, a national infrastructure and an export base,” Lowcock told reporters. “The war has largely destroyed all of that.”

“In the modern world famines are basically about people having no income and then other people blocking efforts to help them. That’s basically what we’ve got in Yemen,” he added.

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the country’s government from Sanaa. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system. The people’s suffering has been worsened by an economic and currency collapse, and by the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN officials are trying to revive peace talks, and new US President Joe Biden has said Yemen is a priority, declaring a halt to US support for the Saudi-led military campaign and demanding the war “has to end.”


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