Millions ‘acutely undernourished’ as Yemen faces humanitarian crisis

16 September 2016

REUTERS

Reduced to rubble: people stand on the rubble of a school destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike on the outskirts of Sa’dah, in Yemen, on Wednesday

Reduced to rubble: people stand on the rubble of a school destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike on the outskirts of Sa’dah, in Yemen, on Wednesday

THE war in Yemen has caused so much destruction that the international community can no longer appreciate the degree of suffering there, a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns. “The scale of the human cost of the conflict,” the report says, “remains under-reported due to the limited number of functioning health facilities.” In 16 of the 20 governorates, over half of the facilities are partially functioning or non-functioning.

The OCHA goes on to describe some of the effects of the Yemen war. It quotes partner groups as saying that “nearly 3 million people require urgent nutrition assistance. About 2.1 million people are currently acutely malnourished, including 1.5 million children, of whom 370,000 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.”

The high level of needs is being driven by “a range of interconnected security and economic forces. In addition to the conflict, availability of essential food commodities has been limited by difficulties in importing enough food due to on-going congestion at ports, as well as damage to local agriculture.” High fuel prices and damage to roads and bridges caused by the war are driving up transport costs. “Unfortunately,” the OCHA says, “funding for the nutrition response has not kept pace with the scale and scope of the crisis.” At the end of August, nutrition partners had mobilised 56 per cent of the $102 million required, meaning that “$45 million is urgently needed to save lives and avoid long-term complications.”

OCHA says that 2.2 million Yemenis “have chosen to leave their homes because of conflict or natural disaster. . . As the displacement crisis in Yemen continues, humanitarian organisations and UN agencies call on the donor community to better respond to the ongoing shelter crisis.”

International neglect of the war in Yemen has meant that the case of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Tom Uzhunnalil of the Missionaries of Charity, who was kidnapped in March this year, has been largely overlooked. Bishop Paul Hinder, of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, last week said that he did not know whether Fr Uzhunnalil was alive or dead, the Catholic News Agency reported.

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Fr Uzhunnalil, who is Indian, was abducted when gunmen attacked the Missionaries of Charity premises in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, killing four nuns and 12 other people (News, 11 March). Bishop Hinder called for prayers for the kidnapped priest and all Christians serving in Yemen, insisting that “the mission in the state of war, despite the difficulty, must continue.”

The conflict in Yemen has its origins in a 2014 uprising by Shia Houthis against the government over rising prices and other social issues. The war began in earnest in March 2015 after the Houthis, backed by Yemeni forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital, Sana’a. As they advanced towards Aden, Saudi Arabia, at the head of an Arab coalition, began air strikes on Yemen, which have continued ever since. Army units loyal to government, backed by tribesmen and troops from Arab Gulf states, succeeded is securing Aden. But they have failed to end a siege of the city of Taiz, and Sana’a remains in rebel hands. The UN estimates that about 10,000 people have been killed in the Yemen war thus far, but warns that the true figure could be even higher.

Earlier this year, Kuwait hosted UN-brokered peace talks, but these collapsed in August when the Houthis and their allies, in defiance of the internationally recognised Yemeni government, formed a supreme council to run the country. The UN Security Council last week called on all parties to “resume consultations immediately without preconditions and in good faith with the UN Special Envoy on the basis of his proposal for a comprehensive agreement covering both security and political issues.”

The difficulties of finding a solution to a war that neither side seems likely to win or lose is compounded by regional issues. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of backing the Houthis as part of Tehran’s efforts to destabilise Sunni Muslim Arab states. So the Saudis would see backing out of the war as tantamount to conceding victory to the Iranians. At the same time, the military stalemate is allowing Islamic State and al-Qaeda to establish roots in the country, drawing in recruits from other Arab and Islamic states. The neglected war looks set to continue.

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