The United Nations has warned that people in Yemen could live through the worst famine in 100 years if the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia-led coalition do not call off the war very soon. The death toll is said to be far worse than expected.
The famine threat
Yemen has been in the grip of a civil war ever since the rebels took control of much of the region. The Saudi coalition has been fighting the rebels, supporting the internationally recognized government. Between these two forces, the citizens of Yemen have been caught, trapped by a barrage of airstrikes, bombings, and minefields. Ever since the war broke out in 2015, millions of people have been displaced from their homes.
But what is the most pressing problem facing the civilians is famine. If the war is not stopped within the next three months, it is estimated that about 12 to 13 million people could be at risk of starvation. In more than 100 districts, at least one in five homes are staring at extreme lack of food, while over 30 percent of kids under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. The charity organization Save the Children estimates that nearly 130 children are dying every single day in the country because of disease and extreme hunger.
“Beyond the sheer numbers, while millions of people have been surviving on emergency food assistance for years, the help they get is enough merely to survive. Not to thrive… The toll is unbearably high. The immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now are literally collapsing, making them — especially children and the elderly — more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera, and other diseases,” UN humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock said to BBC.
The crisis is worsened by the fact that the Red Sea port of Hudaydah is under rebel control and has been a center of intense fighting. Yemen has usually imported more than 90 percent of its food through this port.
Death toll and arms sales
Data regarding the death toll from the Yemen conflict has been a matter of controversy, with some experts arguing that the numbers are being underreported. While the generally accepted death toll in the media is around 10,000, a study by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) estimates that nearly 56,000 people have been killed. This is five times the normally accepted figures. The organization arrived at the figure by carefully verifying and tallying all deaths reported by the Yemen press between January 2016 and October 2018.
The sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition has also been a hotly debated topic. Many activists argue that it is these weapons that have worsened the war. “Given the clear evidence that arms could be used to commit serious violations in Yemen, all arms-supplying states must suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and its coalition members,” Covadonga de la Campa, Interim Director of the Amnesty International EU office, said to Tele Sur.
The war was triggered when Houthi rebels tried to usurp the government of Yemen and impose their own ideological rule on citizens. As such, the only way to ensure that people get back to their daily lives is by reinstating government rule.