By Ryan Matthews
Yemen is on the brink of one of the world’s worst famines, the UN has warned. Eighteen million people – around two-thirds of the country’s population – are going without food every single day in the Arab world’s poorest nation. Close to half of them are “on the brink of starvation”, as pointed out by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme.
Speaking at the 2018 United Nations General Assembly, Beasley blamed man-made conflict and extreme climate change for the dramatic increase in global hunger and severe famine rates in recent years, following nearly two centuries of steady decline.
Since March 2015, Yemen has been locked in a brutal civil war between the forces of the Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansou Hadi and the Ansar Allah rebellion led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. The war has effectively split the country in two: the north, including the capital city of Sana’a, is controlled by the Houthi rebels; the south primarily by government forces and their Saudi-led allies. There is little hope of a resolution to the war any time soon.
The Saudi Arabian-led coalition, which includes American and French special forces units as well as tactical and logistical support from Britain, has set up a naval blockade of major Yemeni ports in rebel-held areas. It has been accused by aid groups of disrupting the delivery of vital resources, including food and fuel, to the people of the war-torn country. CARE International has warned that if Saudi Arabia continues to block aid deliveries to the Yemeni people, food supplies will run out within 3 months.
The coalition has also been accused of deliberately targeting civilians in the war. In August 2018, a Saudi Arabian warplane dropped an American-supplied bomb on a school bus, killing 40 children, 11 adults and injuring a further 79 people, mostly children. It was one of over 50 similar attacks by the coalition on civilian vehicles in 2018.
The war has also caused the value of Yemen’s currency, the rial, to plummet. It has lost over half of its value in 2018 alone which has sent food prices skyrocketing, fuelling fears of full-scale famine conditions across the country within the coming months.
The international charity Save the Children reported that in 2017, over 50,000 Yemeni children had died of starvation and disease caused by the war. According to the UN, a further 400,000 children are thought to be severely malnourished, hence the situation is being labelled as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’.
“First, we hope the war ends,” said Beasley. “Second, we hope that we will have the access, while the war goes on, to get to the children and the families that need our help.”