The scale of the Yemen crisis is unimaginable

The scale of the Yemen crisis is unimaginable
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Mama Fadl’s 8-month-old son had become especially thin and sickly and she started giving him a portion of her own food in a desperate effort to keep him alive. Struggling to survive on one meal a day, Mama Fadl and her baby represent an astonishing number. They are among an estimated 2.9 million dangerously malnourished Yemini women and children.

Food has become especially scarce here in this war-torn nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Caught in the vice of war, husbands and sons have frequently been pressed into battle, leaving their families and farms behind. Opposing forces have stymied aid.


Where the rebel Houthi authorities maintain control, schools are closed and lacking doctors and supplies, medical care is often nonexistent. Marauding militias press households to give up their sons for combat or extort money from families to allow males to stay home. Food is scarce and the rebels hinder movement of critical humanitarian aid inside the country, when it can get in.


The Saudi-led coalition is imposing severe restrictions on the entry of essential goods, including aid in form of food, fuel and medical supplies. In June the Saudi-led coalition began waging a battle to retake the port city of Hodeida where much of the food aid comes into the country. This battle has displaced 200,000 more people as the country teeters on the edge of a full-blown famine.

The Trump administration’s recent response is a plan to sell thousands of precision-guided munitions, or PGMs, to members of the Saudi-led coalition that has blocked aid from entering the country. 

Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with 75 percent of its population requiring humanitarian assistance and eight million Yemenis facing starvation. Families who try to escape the ravages of this war must steal away at night, navigating across roads and fields laden with landmines, evading airstrikes and mortar rounds. Frail bodies lug what few things they can carry — including sick and starving children.

“The scale of this crisis is unimaginable,” says Dr. Nevio Sagaria, WHO’s representative in Yemen. “Almost three years of conflict have led to the world’s largest food crisis, the world’s worst cholera epidemic and the near collapse of the nation’s health and social systems. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic and continues to deteriorate.”

Because tracking cases is so difficult, it is impossible to get a count of the number of children who have died here from extreme hunger and disease. Based on knowledge that 30 percent of children with severe/acute malnutrition who are not able to get treatment die, Save the Children estimates that 50,000 children may have died in just 2017.

Can conditions get any worse? Observers have been asking this question since the early years of this protracted war. There’s always this to consider: One of the many horrors of food crises is that they tend to grow terrorists. Yemen has been a staging ground for ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is one of al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliates.

Bipartisan concern is speaking up. Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungOvernight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language MORE (R-Ind.) says it is of utmost importance for the U.S. to put pressure on all parties to the conflict, including the Saudis and Emiratis (UAE), to put an end to the war. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (D-N.J.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, fears sale of PGMs could be used to kill civilians. This belief is held by many Yemeni as well.

Our officials must listen to the concerns about the dangerous role the U.S. is playing in escalating this crisis. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests Pompeo acknowledges 'places where ISIS is more powerful today' MORE and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Menendez wrote: “I remind you that the American public has a right to insist that the sales of U.S. weapons to foreign governments - especially those of this magnitude and lethality – are consistent with U.S. values and national security objectives.” 

But it’s too late for baby Fadl. By the time Mama Fadl was able to get her 8 month-old son medical care he weighed just 6 pounds. Her son’s face was frail, his legs and feet were swollen and his ribs highly visible, showing all the signs of the worst stage of hunger, “severe acute malnutrition” — a major cause of death of children under five. He did not survive. In the name of Baby Fadl, we must defeat dangerous indifference to this desperate humanitarian crisis.

Dick Stellway is co-director of Community Vision International, Inc., a public-benefit corporation aimed at advising and training community members to facilitate social advancement.