In a situation that can only be described as 'beyond bleak,' the combined threats of war, food shortages, and an acute water crisis in Yemen have come together to put the Middle East's poorest nation on the brink of one of the world's most ignored humanitarian disasters.
Amnesty International said this week that likely war crimes on all sides of Yemen's ongoing fighting are leaving a "bloody trail of civilian death and destruction" in the poverty-stricken nation. In addition, the U.N. Food Program on Wednesday warned of famine while the international aid group UNICEF announced that young people are experiencing the brunt of the conflict with an average of eight children being killed or maimed every single day.
"This conflict is a particular tragedy for Yemeni children," said Julien Harneis, the UNICEF representative in Yemen. "Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue."
In its new report—Yemen: Childhood Under Threat—UNICEF says that nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated in March of this year.
Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.'s World Food Program, told reporters that while some food aid is flowing in, ongoing battles near major ports are stalling deliveries and the ability of aid agencies to reach the country's interior is proving increasingly difficult. A recent assessment by the agency showed that lack of food and water is putting Yemen "one step away from famine levels." Food insecurity and water scarcity are most severe for the country's 1.3 million internally displaced people, the group said.
"If we do not receive the additional access that is required to meet the needs of those who are affected by this ongoing conflict, if we cannot support the commercial markets by ensuring that the ports are open and providing food to ensure that those who have resources can buy the food that is necessary, and if we do not see increased donor support, we are facing the perfect storm in Yemen," she told reporters in Cairo on Tuesday.
UNICEF also said that dwindling resources and lack of new donations has left budgets ravaged, in a situation that is growing more dire with each passing day.
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"We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need," said Harneis on behalf of UNICEF. “"We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe."
On Tuesday, Amnesty released its latest report on the fighting—titled 'Nowhere Safe for Civilians': Airstrikes and Ground Attacks in Yemen—which highlights the impact of unlawful airstrikes launched by the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition that are hitting in densely populated residential neighborhoods across the country. Noting that all factions involved in the fighting have the blood of innocent people on their hands, the report also chronicles attacks by Houthi loyalists and anti-Houthi armed groups operating on the ground who, according to Amnesty's investigation, have carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in civilian areas.
"Civilians in southern Yemen have found themselves trapped in a deadly crossfire between Houthi loyalists and anti-Houtthi groups on the ground, while facing the persistent threat of coalition airstrikes from the sky. All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians," said Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response advisor at Amnesty International. The new report, she continued, "depicts in harrowing detail the gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction in Ta’iz and Aden from unlawful attacks, which may amount to war crimes, by all parties."
After the port of Hodeidah was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday, several international aid agencies operating in the country condemned the attack as just the latest horrific example of how the military campaign is making already emergency-level humanitarian crisis even worse.
"The coalition airstrikes of Hodeidah’s port is yet another example of an attack on a civilian target," declared Philippe Clerc, in-country director for Oxfamn International.
"We utterly condemn it," he continued, "and all actions taken by any party to the conflict that harms civilians or civilian infrastructure. These airstrikes follow the ports closure to vessels carrying vital commercial supplies for nearly a fortnight. Resuming supplies coming through Hodeidah, like other Yemeni ports, is essential. In Yemen, over 21 million people need aid; 13 million people don’t have enough food to eat. Such attacks need to end immediately. We need to find a permanent end to the fighting and a negotiated peace."
Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, echoed those sentiments and said the fighting in Yemen and willful restrictions on relief and humanitarian supplies has "already helped to create one of the world's worst humanitarian crises."
Calling the bombing of Hodeidah "the final straw," Santiago said it is imperative that new supplies make their way into the country. "The impact of these latest airstrikes," he warned, "will be felt most strongly by innocent children and families."