Nobody is Paying Attention to the Crisis That Affects 18 Million People in Yemen

Yemen is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis with 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian help, and over 14 million people facing starvation and malnutrition.

On 30 July 2015, Faisal, 18 months old, is treated for severe acute malnutrition at Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. Haitham Faisal is 18 months old. The mother says he was born a healthy bouncing baby weighing 2.7 kilos. He then rose to 12 kilos at 1 year but now he weighs a miserable 5 kilos. His weighed has wasted away revealing bones in his bare ribs. He was admitted at Al-Sabeen Hospital 45 days ago. His mother had braved a two days journey to reach him here from Al-Saddah village. In peace times, it would be a journey of 3-4 hours by bus. His problem had started 3 months ago. He lost his appetite and then started vomiting. The mother says she couldn’t afford enough food and decided to sell her only piece of land to provide for Faisal and his two other siblings. The mother took Faisal to health centre in a nearby village where he was admitted for two weeks and treated for malnutrition. Faisal was discharged but after few weeks, he started vomiting again. This time he also had diarhoea and his couldn’t eat. He developed sores on the throat and started bleeding. That’s when his mother decided to bring him to Al-Sabeen hospital where he is receiving treatment. “I would sell everything I have to ensure my children’s wellbeing, what really disturbs me is how difficult it has become to get proper medical treatment. The hospitals are no longer what they used to be. The war has made all things worse, everything got more expensive, nowhere is safe even here at the hospital as it’s near a military based. I just hope that my son gets better soon so I can return home to my children.”

Faisal, 18 months old, is treated for severe acute malnutrition. Photograph © UNICEF/Yasin.

When winds of revolution stirred the Arab world in December 2010, Yemenis sprung to action. The country had suffered years of instability, corruption and poverty and then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh had just proposed to amend the constitution to allow him to keep office for life. Yemeni citizens took to the streets to demand – among other things – Saleh’s resignation. When Salah finally did stand down, he started pulling strings behind the scenes. In March 2015, with Saleh silently behind them, Houthi Shia forces launched a bitter campaign to overthrow the government and gain control of the country.

Since then, Yemen and its people have been caught in the middle of a war between Houthi forces and fighters loyal to the government. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has seized some parts of the country, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has joined in on the violence.

The spiraling unrest has killed over ten thousand Yemenis, displaced more than 3 million people and pushed over 14 million in to hunger and malnutrition.

Even before the war, Yemen struggled with food insecurity and 90% of its basic foods and medicine supplies were imported. Now, the war has destroyed or blocked the all-important access routes that transported food into and throughout the country. According to the World Food Program, even humanitarian agencies can’t get through to some areas because there is simply no safe passage.

On 30 April 2016 in Yemen, humanitarian aid supplies arrive at the port of Hodeidah.

Humanitarian aid supplies arrive at the port of Hodeidah in Yemen. Photograph © UNICEF/ Alayyashi.

Four in five Yemenis are now in need of humanitarian assistance and those most impacted by the crisis are children. The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, says nearly three million people in Yemen are in immediate need of food supply and about 370,000 of those children are suffering acute malnutrition.

Even if food access is restored or the conflict ends, the effects of malnutrition (stunted growth and delayed cognitive development) may stay with these children for life.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien visited Yemen in October this year, and described the sight of small and skeletal children suffering malnutrition as “absolutely devastating.”

On 30 July 2015, Hanadi, 2 years and 8 months old, and weighs a paltry 7 kilograms. She is malnourished, weak and can’t walk. She is admitted at Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a for treatment. Ali Hanadi Hussein is 2 years and 8 months old, and weighs a paltry 7 kilograms now. She is malnourished, weak and can’t walk. Her mother says since the war escalated the family mainly survived on bread whenever they find it. Hanadi and her three siblings started to become frail. Then Hanadi got diarhoea and started vomiting. Her father is permanently disabled due to an accident at work and her mother, only a housewife, couldn’t find any source of food. They survived on handouts from neighbours and charity groups. When Hanadi’s condition worsened, she decided to bring her to Sabeen hospital but left the other three older children in the village with their father. “It is already very hard for us especially with my husband’s condition, living on charity every day, now I’m here alone with my daughter while the country is on fire. Though at Al-Sabeen Hospital we have someone who can help her, I am worried about the children and family I left behind” – Hanadi’s mother said.

At 2 years and 8 months old, Hanadi weighs just 7 kilograms. Photograph © UNICEF/Yasin.

And it’s not just war and malnutrition plaguing the people of Yemen. The conflict has  razed water and sanitation infrastructure and led to other serious health risks. On October 6, authorities confirmed reports of cholera. The United Nations worries an outbreak of cholera – a highly contagious disease caused by ingesting contaminated food or water – could further devastate Yemen, particularly given the cramped and unclean living arrangements of the country’s more than 2.2 million internally displaced people.


Yemeni children on their daily journey in search for water. Photograph © UNICEF/Mahyoob.

“The cholera outbreak is particularly worrying for refugees, asylum seekers and local communities in Yemen whose risks and vulnerabilities are compounded by the ongoing conflict and the deteriorating humanitarian situation,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned last month.

With civil war continuing to rage and aid agencies’ efforts frustrated by conflict and lack of funds, the battle to contain a potential cholera outbreak and respond to the extreme humanitarian crisis in Yemen is daunting.

“We need to do more,” O’Brien said in his October visit, “We need to do everything we can to meet the very large scale of needs here in Yemen.”

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