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Yemeni Children Are Starving As The Country Enters Its Second Year Of Conflict

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Jesselyn Cook
ATHENA IMAGE © Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters ATHENA IMAGE

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and several of its Gulf allies launched a military campaign against Yemen's Houthi rebels, a Shiite militia that had taken over swathes of the country. Since the start of that operation, now one year ago, at least six Yemeni children have been killed or wounded on average each day.

The sobering statistic is one of many revealed in a new UNICEF report documenting the devastating effects of the civil war on Yemen's children. "Children do not start wars, yet are the most vulnerable to their deadly effects," UNICEF writes. 

Warning: This story contains images some readers may find upsetting.

UNICEF's research shows that more than 900 Yemeni children were killed and more than 1,300 were injured in Yemen the past year. Children represent nearly one-third of all civilian deaths in the country since March 2015. 

Tensions in Yemen escalated in September 2014, when the Houthis took over Yemen's capital, Sanaa. The Houthis went on to capture much of the country, forcing out Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a campaign of sustained airstrikes to help Hadi retake power. 

The airstrikes and ground fighting have devastated the already impoverished country. Amid the brutal war, jihadist militants ramped up deadly attacks, including a triple suicide bombing that killed 22 people last week.

The fighting in Yemen has aggravated an already dire humanitarian situation. Food and clean water are in short supply. Many medical facilities have been destroyed or lack supplies. Schools have been demolished or abandoned. 

Today, more than 80 percent of the Yemeni population needs urgent humanitarian assistance. Children are among the worst affected. 

One of those children was Udai Faisal, a fragile boy born five months ago in a shantytown on the edge of Sanaa. Faisal died last week of malnutrition while his mother looked on, the Associated Press reported.

Intissar Hezzam told the AP she "screamed and fainted" after losing her tiny son. She had resorted to feeding him water and sugar in a desperate attempt to keep him healthy when food was scarce and her body became unable to produce milk.

Even before the start of the civil war, Yemen imported 90 percent of its staple foods, as only 4 percent of its land is arable. The violence of the past year has devastated the tiny agriculture sector, creating an even stronger need for imported goods and humanitarian aid than before.

"Under these critical conditions, it's more important than ever to help families produce their own food and reduce their dependence on increasingly scarce and costly food imports," said Etienne Peterschmitt, the deputy representative and emergency response team leader in Yemen for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

While the need for foreign aid has grown stronger as a direct result of the conflict, Saudi blockades have made it increasingly difficult to deliver this aid to the famished, besieged nation.

Last month, the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said Saudi Arabia seized a shipment of food that was en route to people in Yemen. This is not the first reported interference

United Nations Aid Chief Stephen O'Brien called on all parties to allow for the safe operations of humanitarian aid workers in the country, after explaining to Reuters how "extraordinarily difficult and dangerous circumstances" have prevented them from effectively helping those in need.

Late last year, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Muhannad Hadi expressed frustration after his organization struggled to deliver aid to people in Taiz, Yemen's third-largest city, due to fighting and blockades. Taiz is one of 10 districts in Yemen where food insecurity has reached an "emergency" level -- just one step below "famine" on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale.

“The precarious situation in Taiz has hampered WFP’s efforts to reach impoverished people, especially in besieged parts of the city, who have not had access to food for many weeks,” Hadi said in a press release. “WFP has delivered food assistance to Taiz governorate in the hope of reaching every person in need, but so far we have not been able to reach most of them.”

The U.N. brokered a nationwide ceasefire that will go into effect on April 10, but it is unclear if humanitarian aid will be delivered at that time.

Peace talks will resume on April 18, focusing on the withdrawal of military forces, the surrender of heavy weaponry, temporary security arrangements and the restoration of state institutions, according to Al Jazeera.

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