Ahmed, 3 years old, in a hospital in Hajjah receiving treatment for moderate acute malnutrition.

Ahmed, 3 years old, in a hospital in Hajjah receiving treatment for moderate acute malnutrition.

Credit:

Abeer Etefa/World Food Program

 

People in Yemen are struggling to feed themselves every day, as a brutal war between Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces drags on unabated.

Nineteen months after fighting broke out between the government of Yemen's President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebel movement, Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster.

More than 14 million people — about half the population — are going hungry, and as many as 370,000 children are at risk of starvation, the United Nations said this summer.

Now, a new report from the UN's World Food Program says the problem is getting worse and is affecting women and children the most.

“Hunger is increasing every day and people have exhausted all their survival strategies. Millions of people cannot survive without external assistance,” said Muhannad Hadi, the program's director for the Middle East and several other regions.

A World Food Program team recently visited Yemen's health centers that treat those affected by hunger.

"I borrowed money from my neighbors and family to be able to bring my son from Tuhayta district to the hospital here in Hodeidah to get treatment for malnutrition," Ihsan, a 26-year-old mother, told the team. "I am breast-feeding him but he is slipping away from us and losing more weight every day. I hardly have food to feed my children, let alone to eat well."

Even before the conflict began, Yemen was the Arab world’s poorest country, with one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.

Yemen imports 90 percent of its food. A deep economic crisis caused by the war and a coalition blockade on imports has sent the price of food, fuel and other basics sky-high. Human Rights Watch said last year the blockade "has had a severe impact on the situation and may amount to the war crime of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare."

“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” said the World Food Program's Yemen director, Torben Due.

The conflict started in 2014, after large-scale protests against Hadi’s government. The Shiite Houthi movement took control of the capital Sanaa in early 2015, forcing the president to flee. The group and its allies then pushed to capture the entire country. But that prompted an intervention by Saudi Arabia, which was concerned that the Shiite movement was being backed by the Saudis' regional rival, Iran

US President Barack Obama backed Saudi Arabia in its campaign in Yemen, and America's involvement recently deepened. That's likely to create an early foreign policy challenge for whomever succeeds Obama.

An air campaign carried out by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries, and a sea blockade, has wrought havoc on Yemen. The UN estimates that at least 9,000 people have been killed by the fighting. Since the coalition bombing began in March 2015, nearly 4,000 civilians have been killed, most of them by the coalition or its Sunni allies.

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