85,000 children under the age of 5 have starved to death in the protracted Yemen conflict. The shocking figures come from a new report by Save the Children, that went on to conclude that an estimated 400,000 more children in Yemen are likely to suffer from malnutrition in 2018. Only last month the UN warned that 14 million people, almost 50% of the population of Yemen, are at risk of dying from starvation by early 2019 in what is now the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
The Save the Children report also highlights why children are at greatest risk and need improved measures to protect them in conflict. Young children under 5 are particularly vulnerable to hunger, which in turn creates added pressure on their immune systems, creating a direct threat to their lives.
Despite the distressing notion of 14 million people currently being at risk, famine has not yet been officially declared by international organisations, all evidence demonstrates that millions of Yemenis are on the verge of famine.
Hodeidah is one of the most important towns in Yemen because of its port through which 80% of Yemen’s humanitarian and commercial aid arrives. Aid agencies and international NGOs have warned a number of times at how detrimental further fighting in the area could be. More destruction would stop the flow of aid from entering Yemen; aid upon which a large percentage of the population rely for basic survival. If delivery of supplies is restricted, the current humanitarian crisis would expand exponentially, and its repercussion would be widespread famine and an epidemic of cholera.
The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths has urged the country’s Houthi rebel leader to attend peace talks in Sweden, and as of 17 November, all warring parties had agreed to attend talks in Sweden in December.
“We must seize this positive international momentum on Yemen,” Griffiths said.
“This is an opportunity at a crucial moment to pursue a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement to the conflict.”
Griffiths also said that the Houthis and Saudi-backed government were about to conclude an agreement on exchanging prisoners and detainees.
Earlier this week on 20 November, the UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) posted information on how we are losing the fight against famine in Yemen and suggests 5 ways to stop it: ‘1) Stop attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, 2) Allow all imports of food, fuel and medicine, 3) Provide more foreign exchange and pay civil servants, 4) Support scale-up of the humanitarian response and 5) Support UN Envoy’s efforts to end conflict.’
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter on 21 November,
“The situation in Yemen has to change…Aim of UK sponsored UN Security Council resolution is to relieve the immediate humanitarian crisis and maximise the chances of achieving a political settlement.”
The UK then tabled a UN Security Council resolution that called for an immediate truce in Hodeidah and guarantees safe delivery of vital supplies such as food and medicine. In his address to UK parliament the foreign secretary said,
“The one piece of optimism in this incredibly tragic story, is the fact that the outline of a political settlement is actually fairly clear and there is a broad degree of agreement on all sides, so it’s really about building the trust to get there.”
Echoing Hunt’s concern, a number of UK government officials have expressed the urgency of the humanitarian situation in Yemen. In an article published in the Guardian, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Emily Thornberry, reported on parliamentary discussions with the foreign secretary and expressed concern over the UK’s contribution to the conflict through ongoing arms exports to Saudi. Thornberry wrote,
“So now is the time to act. It may be too late for the minimum of 85,000 children who are estimated to have died from malnutrition and disease since the war in Yemen began, in addition to the several hundred killed by Saudi air strikes. But it is not too late for the five million Yemeni children whom the United Nations has warned are on the brink of starvation.”
Following UK parliamentary discussions on 22 November, the UN Security Council debated the UK drafted resolution on 23 November. The resolution asked all parties in the Yemen conflict to take,
“constant care to spare civilian objects, including those necessary for food production, distribution, processing and storage”.
In the UN Security Council meeting of 23 November Griffifths summarised discussions to Reuters saying,
“We discussed … how the United Nations can take a leading role in operating the port, we have to do this quickly through discussions with all the parties,”
The international community now looks to the peace talks in December to bring the long-drawn out conflict to an end.