Poverty, Famine, And Cholera Collide In War-Torn Yemen

Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, according to NGO sources and news agencies. Yemen, a war-torn and poor Middle Eastern country, is being ravaged by famine and cholera.

More than half of the country’s population lacks access to sufficient daily nutrition. More than 14 million, 8 million that are children, do not have access to clean drinking water.

Oxfam, a global aid and development organisation, has called the crisis “the largest ever outbreak of cholera since records began,” with more than 360 hundred thousand suspected cases and more than two thousand dead in only three months.

The situation in Yemen is devastating, but the country’s devastation is neither purely environmental or military. Instead, direct and indirect consequences of violence have come together with environmental factors to create a humanitarian nightmare, one largely overlooked and under addressed by Western governments.

Responding to the fact that 80 per cent of children in Yemen are now in immediate need of emergency aid, as reported earlier this week in the Guardian, Save the Children’s Caroline Anning confirmed that “it tallies with what we see on the ground. The message we get is this is an off-the-scale humanitarian crisis, much bigger than what we see in Syria, much bigger than in other parts of the world.”

Yemen has been plagued by continued violence since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition, backed by Western governments, including the USA and UK, clashed with Houthi rebels and set up a blockade which impeded international relief efforts. In January 2017, the UN reported approximately 10 thousand people killed as a direct result of the conflict while millions more have been internally displaced.

Child recruitment has become another key concern: UNICEF confirmed 848 cases of child enlistment between 2015 and 2016 as militant groups recruited children as young as 10 years old to man checkpoints and carry weapons. Indeed, almost all of Yemen’s civilian population has been rendered vulnerable since this most recent bout of violence broke out, such that, as UNICEF’s Julien Harneis declared last year, “even playing or sleeping has become dangerous.”

The situation in Yemen is discouraging, but the role international politics has played in rendering this crisis what it is, and the role international aid must play if the situation is to be salvaged, cannot be underestimated. In an interview with the NYT about the UN’s decision to “set aside” plans for the cholera vaccination campaign, United Nations aid coordinator Jamie McGoldrick, said, “All of this is entirely man-made — this is a result of the conflict.”

The man-made conflict has shattered the country’s health care system, causing a critical shortage of doctors, nurses, and funds required to pay those practitioners who remain. Man-made conflict is also responsible for the failure of plans, like that of the UN, to intervene with emergency aid.

“You can’t plan a campaign [in Yemen] like you would do in a normal country,” said the spokesman for the World Health Organization, Christian Lindmeier, as the confluence of crises is just too dire.

As the situation in Yemen progresses, the biggest hurdle will be parsing the complex and interwoven threads of devastation in order to effectively appeal to an international audience. In order to make progress in the fight against malnutrition and disease, progress must also be made in establishing peace for a population who have no more room for error.

“This is preventable if the international community takes decisive action,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February.

The crisis is able to continue to happen, as Anning observes, “In the background almost, [as] it doesn’t get the same amount of attention” compared to conflicts elsewhere. Thus, for so many, decisive action is coming too late.

NGOs are already calling on governments allied with the Saudi coalition to reform their policies and resolve the conflict which impedes aid. In order for real change to take place, the call for change has to come from all levels of the electorate and from people around the world. As well, for change to occur, the crisis in Yemen and the fate of all Yemenis has to occupy an urgent position in the international political consciousness.

Genevieve Zimantas