Last Thursday, the head of the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, arrived in Amman, Jordan after a heart-wrenching tour of war-ravaged Yemen. ‘Stop the war,’ said Lake. It was a clear message. No subtlety was needed. ‘All of us,’ he said, ‘should feel ‘immense pity, even agony, for all of those children and others who are suffering, and they should feel anger, anger that this, our generation, is scarred by the irresponsibility of governments and others to allow these things to be happening.’
Lake’s message has gone unheeded. As is the voice of all those who have tried to raise discussion of the atrocity done to Yemen. Last night, the charity group Save the Children raised the alarm once more. In a brief report, Save the Children said that more than a million children who suffer from acute malnutrition live in the areas where cholera has swept the country.
‘After two years of armed conflict,’ said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, ‘children are trapped in a brutal cycle of starvation and sickness. And it’s simply unacceptable.’ Kirolos’ teams in the hardest hit areas find ‘a horrific scenario of babies and young children who are not only malnourished but also infected with cholera.’ The combination is deadly. What lies ahead is apocalyptic: mass deaths of children from a combination of hunger and disease.
In June, UNICEF reported that a Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes. These deaths are not tragedies. They are crimes.
The war in Yemen, prosecuted by Saudi Arabia and its allies and backed with weaponry from the West, has destroyed the country’s food, water and health infrastructure. In January 2016, Saudi aircraft bombed a water desalination plant north of al-Mocha. This bombing run, which lasted minutes, left the million residents of the Yemeni city of Taiz without water. Piped water is no longer an option for most Yemenis. They rely upon water tankers; this water has become more expensive as fuel prices have skyrocketed. Last month, Gabriel Sánchez of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yemen said that in one district, ‘our teams are seeing an extremely poor sanitation situation and insufficient access to clean drinking water.’ Absence of clean drinking water has helped fuel the cholera epidemic which broke out this March.
Aid groups, from the UN and elsewhere, as well as citizens groups across Yemen have tried to address the crisis, but the scale of this human-made disaster is enormous. Four out of five children in Yemen need some humanitarian aid. No aid agency can solve this crisis if the war continues – particularly if the fragile infrastructure continues to be bombed and if repair of this infrastructure continues to be prevented. Saudi Arabia has blockaded this country and bombed its main port. This has not only hampered the work of charity groups, but it has also meant much needed supplies for repair have cannot reach Yemen. The country is being isolated into desolation.