Borders Tighten As Yemeni Children Starve

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The civil war in Yemen has led to the largest cholera outbreak on record, widespread famine, and a ban from the United Nations on all air traffic, leaving little hope for humanitarian aid as the country is closed in at all sides.

The cholera outbreak is the worst the world has seen, with more than 900,000 reported cases and over 2,190 deaths. 

The Guardian reports that in September, the rate of cholera infections started to ease with shipments of chlorine tablets and vaccines from humanitarian efforts -- but with the ban on flights, the numbers will likely rise again. Aid agencies warn that Yemen’s dire humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not open the country’s land, sea and air ports.

“If the closure is not stopped in the coming days, we may see that the progress is stopped,” said Fadela Chaib, the World Health Organization’s spokeswoman in Geneva, on Nov. 10. 

The outbreak and need for treatment is not the only problem facing the Yemeni people, but famine due to the loss of government wages, as well. Soldiers have been fighting without pay since the internationally recognized government was forced into exile in 2014, reports The New York Times. This following a coup conducted by the Houthis rebels and parts of the Yemeni military. Saudi officials who hold the majority of the power in the region claim there is no hunger crisis, reports The Guardian. 

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On the surface, that could appear to be true. The markets in Hodeidah and Lahij are abundant with food but are short on customers, as basic goods like flour, fruits and vegetables are priced more like luxury items. According to the Famine Early Warning Signs Index, the town of Lahij scores a four on the index -- level five is considered full blown famine. 

“We are weak, our children are weak and we have nothing left to give. We can’t even feed our animals anymore” said Nor Rashid as she cradled her daughter, according to The Guardian. “Only God can save us now.”

Parents and children from surrounding areas flood hospitals due to malnutrition. A 21-month old girl weighed 7 pounds on her second admission in three months. 

The U.S. and the U.K. have been criticized for their involvement in Yemen, with the U.K. providing weapons to Saudi Arabia and the U.S. conducting deadly airstrikes. Less than 45 percent of the country’s medical facilities are still operating -- most were forced to close due to fighting or lack of funding, reports The Guardian. 

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The number of covert U.S. airstrikes in Yemen more than doubled since Trump took office, rising to 93 compared with a total of 40 in Obama's final year, according to figures from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, reports The Guardian. 

According to The Guardian, both data collection agencies Reprieve and TBIJ report at least 30 civilians and 10 children have been killed so far in U.S.-led operations -- and most were during the operation in January that killed a U.S. Navy Seal. TBIJ didn't report any casualties in Yemen in 2016 as a result of airstrikes. 

“Hungry children don’t smile. She’s been here a whole month and hasn’t smiled,” Dr. Aida al-Sadeeq said of a 2-year-old who weighs only 11 pounds.

According to U.N. officials, the famine in Yemen will be the worst the world has ever seen. Since the government wages ceased a year earlier in 2016, the hospitals that do remain run on the goodwill of their doctors and nurses to continue operating. The ongoing humanitarian crisis leaves over 10 million people who require immediate aid. 

“We are almost in the third year of the war and nothing is getting better,” said Meritxell Relano of UNICEF, reports The New York Times, “There are limits to what we can do in such a collapsed state.”

According to The Times, peace talks at the U.N. have stalled and peace is nowhere in sight for the region.

Sources: The Guardian (2), The New York Times / Featured Image: European Commission DG Echo/Flickr / Embedded Images: Julie Harnels/Flickr, Ahmed Farwan/Flickr

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