Famine And Disease: The Consequences Of The Yemeni Civil War

An airstrike this Wednesday evening on a local hotel just north of Yemen’s capital Sanaa has been the latest tragedy in the country’s two-year civil war. The most recent death toll places casualties from this one incident at around 50 people. Rescuers and witnesses reporting to BBC from the small town say most killed were civilians, merchants and farmers from the area. The attack on the hotel was just one of at least 20 airstrikes in the Arhab district. Although there has been no official comment, it is thought that the attacks were ordered by the coalition of Emirate states led by Saudi Arabia against Houthi rebels, who have claimed territory in Northern Yemen.

The Houthi rebel movement has been prominent in Yemen and Saudi Arabia since the 1990’s. In March 2015, the Shia-Islam religious group took over Yemeni government by seizing the presidential palace. Since then, they have been considered terrorists by the Saudi and official Yemeni governments. Yemen’s civil war, which has already lasted over two years, has been devastating to the civilian population. UN estimates show that since March 2015, 8,167 people have been killed and a shocking 46,335 injured in the fighting in Yemen. The conflict has drawn international attention as it has escalated into a humanitarian catastrophe that requires immediate aid. UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have predicted that some 20.7 million people are in need of assistance as Yemen is threatened by famine and disease.

Yemen faces the worst cholera outbreak the world has ever seen, according to WHO. Last week, WHO released a report stating that, at present, there are at least 500,000 cases of cholera, and since April of this year over 2,000 Yemeni have died as a result of the outbreak. Lack of health care and access to clean water have been major contributing factors in the spread of cholera and are direct results of the civil war that has stripped Yemen of the necessary resources to ensure the safety of its citizens. Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian chief, in a meeting with the UN Security Council described the conflict as an “avoidable, completely man-made catastrophe.” The lives already taken by the outbreaks are tragic, but there is an opportunity and need to prevent any further loss.

UNICEF has stated that Yemen is on the brink of famine, estimating nearly 2 million Yemeni children are “acutely malnourished.” The weakened immune system by malnutrition leaves people more susceptible to disease, and illness leads to further malnutrition, thus creating a vicious cycle of poor health amongst the hostile environment of a country in the midst of civil war. After just two years of war, thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more put in danger. With the war likely to continue, the fate of Yemeni people looks grim, as future generations will be left with greater challenges. The heads of WHO, UNICEF and WFP ,Dr Tedros Adhanom, Anthony Lake and David Beasley respectively, recently travelled to Yemen to understand the scale of the crisis. Their organizations have banded together to call for international support. In a report issued after their visit, they stated, “the catastrophe we have seen unfolding before our eyes will not only continue to claim lives but will scar future generations and the country for years to come.” While Yemeni and Saudi governments attempt to re-establish control, it looks like protecting the livelihood and health of Yemeni citizens will have to rely on international sources of aid.