1,000 days into Yemen's 'forgotten' war, NGOs urge action

By AFP/Katy Lee, Valérie Leroux   December 19, 2017 | 06:51 pm PT
1,000 days into Yemen's 'forgotten' war, NGOs urge action
An Yemeni woman sits next to a malnourished Yemeni child receiving treatment at a hospital in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah on December 19, 2017. The United Nations has listed Yemen as the world's number one humanitarian crisis, with seven million people on the brink of famine and a cholera outbreak that has caused more than 2,000 deaths. Photo by AFP/Abdo Hyder
Three quarters of the Yemeni population now rely on aid to survive.

A thousand days of bloodshed: as Yemen prepares to mark Wednesday's grim anniversary, aid workers are urging world powers to bring an end to a "forgotten" conflict.

Photographs of children starving to death have failed to spur the international community into ending the world's worst humanitarian crisis, which charities warn is deepening by the day.

"There are things that could happen tomorrow that could stop children from dying," said Caroline Anning, a senior adviser at Save the Children who recently travelled to Yemen.

"Considering the depth of the suffering and the fact that it's entirely man-made, we haven't had the level of international attention on Yemen that you would expect to see."

The British charity expects 50,000 children to have died needlessly by the end of this year, with a crippling blockade on ports and airports compounding food shortages and a cholera outbreak affecting nearly one million people.

At the top of many aid workers' wish list is to see the Saudi-led coalition, which has been pounding Huthi rebels since March 26, 2015, lift the blockade which has drastically reduced their ability to bring in food and medical supplies.

Under a newly launched online campaign called Yemen Can't Wait, some 350 public figures have signed an open letter urging the United States, Britain and France to do more to end a war that has claimed more than 8,700 lives.

The conflict "has transformed the poorest country in the Middle East into the world's worst humanitarian crisis," said the letter published in France's Le Monde daily on Monday.

The letter calls on U.S. President Donald Trump, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and British premier Theresa May to push for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks as permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It pointed to these countries' lucrative arms contracts with Saudi Arabia, which is determined to crush the rebels it sees as proxies for arch-rival Iran.

"Millions of Yemeni women, men and children feel abandoned by world leaders, who seem to place profits and politics before human lives," said the letter signed by stars including actors Bill Nighy and Juliette Binoche.

'Entirely preventable' 

In a country which was highly dependent on food imports even before the war, French aid group ACTED estimates that some 22 million Yemenis -- three quarters of the population -- now rely on aid to survive.

Humanitarian workers say the Saudi blockade, tightened after a missile attack on Riyadh in November, has exacerbated disease which was already rampant in Yemen by creating a dire vaccine shortage.

Some aid supplies have been allowed in, but the blockade has had knock-on effects including soaring fuel prices which are crippling everything from hospitals to water plants.

Liny Suharlim, ACTED's Yemen country director, said lifting the blockade should be an immediate priority.

But only a political settlement will end the suffering of civilians who have borne the brunt of the crisis, she said.

"We are there doing what we call firefighting," she said of aid workers.

"For us it's really disheartening because this is something that is entirely preventable, completely man-made."

Compounding the problems, Anning said, public sector workers such as doctors and teachers have not been paid for a year and a half, gutting services in many areas.

'Invisible' conflict 

The Yemen Can't Wait campaign is intended to pressure Western leaders into action partly by raising awareness of a conflict that has largely remained off the front pages.

"Yemen is regarded as an invisible conflict, that the world has forgotten," Suharlim said.

Anning suggested Saudi Arabia's success in keeping journalists away helped explain the conflict's failure to seize the world's conscience.

But she added that the fact that the war has not sparked a significant refugee crisis -- a combined result of poverty, geography and Yemenis' inability to escape the relentless fighting -- has also encouraged the West to ignore the conflict.

"There isn't a big refugee outflow that's impacting other countries," she said.

"For all of the suffering with the extreme rates of acute malnutrition, the number of children dying every day, the world's biggest cholera outbreak or from hunger, it's contained within Yemen's borders."

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