Yemen facing massive famine

Millions of people will die in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, in what will be the world’s worst famine crisis in decades, unless a Saudi-led military coalition ends a devastating blockade and allows aid into the country, the United Nations has warned.

The Saudi-led alliance fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen tightened its air, land and sea blockade of the country after a ballistic missile was fired on Saturday towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Since then, the country’s already inflated food and fuel prices have skyrocketed, while flights delivering much-needed humanitarian aid have been prevented from landing.

Yemen is an Arab country in Western Asia at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east-northeast.

Since 2011, Yemen has been in a state of political crisis that began with with street protests against poverty, unemployment, corruption, and a scheme to amend the country’s constitution to eliminate the presidential term limit, in effect making President Ali Abdullah Saleh, described by critics as a kleptocrat, “president for life.”

Saleh’s removal from office in 2012, resulted in a civil war and a Saudi Arabian-led military intervention that has blocked food imports, leading to a famine that is affecting 17 million people.

The lack of safe drinking water, caused by depleted aquifers and the destruction of the country’s water infrastructure, has also caused the world’s worst outbreak of cholera, with 1 million cases. More than 2,196 people have died since the outbreak began to spread rapidly at the end of April 2017.

The United Nations estimates around 10,000 people have died since the conflict began in March 2015, in which Saudi Arabian forces have been accused of targeting civilians with deadly air strikes. 

“These aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet, they are real attacks with real people being killed,” said Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), an organization that has taken the UK government to court over Saudi arms deals, of which Foreign Minister Alistair Burt is aware of 318 cases that could violate international law

“The scale of the destruction that has been inflicted upon Yemen is appalling,” said Smith. “After almost three years of pain, the situation is only getting worse. The Saudi regime has wagered a terrible bombardment: it has fuelled an awful cholera outbreak, and has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”

Speaking in Paris on Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia to temper its actions in Yemen, Qatar and Lebanon amid reports of new civilian deaths in Yemen.

“With respect to Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Qatar, how they’re handling the Yemen war that they’re engaged in, the Lebanon situation, we would encourage them to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences,” Tillerson said.

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