THE BLOG

We Can't Ignore The Hell That's Been Created In Yemen

It’s hard to miss the direct impact of the war on children.

07/02/2017 2:37 PM AEDT | Updated 07/02/2017 2:37 PM AEDT
Naif Rahma / Reuters
"So far, the fighting has killed almost 1,400 children and wounded 2,140 others."

One of the seven countries on US President Trump's travel ban list is my own, Yemen -- a country currently enduring a devastating civil war that's a mystery to most of the world.

In my country, desperate mothers sit on street corners cradling pale and emaciated infants who are too hungry to move or even cry as their tiny bodies waste away.

There's a traditional saying in Yemen, where hardship is no stranger, that 'no one dies of hunger'. But this is no longer the case.

Fierce fighting between armed groups has killed more than 10,000 people, damaged or destroyed hundreds of health facilities and triggered a humanitarian disaster leaving 80 percent of the population in need of aid. Recently, a bomb exploded near a school close to the capital, reportedly killing at least one child and injuring four others.

This is the reality for the people of Yemen -- a nation whose descent into hell has largely been ignored by the world.

There's a traditional saying in Yemen, where hardship is no stranger, that 'no one dies of hunger'. But this is no longer the case.

With hospitals and schools damaged by airstrikes and ground fighting, and import restrictions and bureaucratic impediments hampering the delivery of aid, their future looks desperately bleak.

In the coastal city of Hodeida, visibly malnourished children can be seen busy at work every day trying to make ends meet.

On a recent visit, I met a 40-year-old mother and her severely malnourished five-year-old daughter, who was so thin her ribs were jutting out. Doctors said her condition was so serious that she could die if she wasn't hospitalised immediately. Stories such as this one are becoming all too familiar, with millions of Yemenis going hungry, and many barely surviving on a single meal a day.

Nearly two years into the conflict, the number of children under five who are severely malnourished -- and who could die if they do not receive treatment urgently -- has nearly tripled, and now stands at 462,000. A further 1.7 million children under five are moderately malnourished and could rapidly slide into life-threatening severe malnutrition if not treated in time.

It's hard to miss the direct impact of the war on children. So far, the fighting has killed almost 1,400 children and wounded 2,140 others -- many have had limbs amputated or suffered other horrific injuries.

But the conflict also has less visible consequences, with the decimated health system, collapsed economy and food crisis leading to a significant increase in child mortality -- roughly 10,000 more children in Yemen are dying annually from totally preventable causes such as malnutrition, respiratory infections and diarrhea. That's in addition to the nearly 40,000 who were dying unnecessarily each year before the conflict escalated.

The already fragile health system simply cannot cope and is on the brink of collapse. At least 270 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the fighting. Nearly 600 health facilities are not functioning at all, and more than 1,300 others are not working at full capacity and have reduced services due to staff and medical supplies shortages. The facilities that are open don't have enough medicine, and what they do have is often unaffordable -- many ordinary medicines are now three times as expensive as before the war.

This conflict shows no signs of abating and there's no political solution on the horizon. So it's imperative we take action now to make sure thousands of children do not die unnecessarily in 2017, be it from preventable causes or the fighting.

We are running mobile health clinics to reach those in rural or hard-to-reach areas, and also stepping up efforts to support local health professionals and 60 health facilities across the country, so that every last child in Yemen can access decent health care and have enough food to eat.

The already fragile health system simply cannot cope and is on the brink of collapse.

We're also providing life-saving medicine, and building solar panels on hospitals so no more babies die when fighting damages generators or power lines, or when hospitals run out of money to buy fuel.

And we're working to stamp out diseases such as cholera, which have been on the rise in recent months, by providing hospitals with the skills and medicines they need to isolate infectious cases, and then treat them quickly and effectively.

Now we are urging the Australian Government to provide funding to this crisis to ensure children's most urgent humanitarian needs are met, including life-saving health and nutrition interventions. We also call on the Government to do all it can diplomatically to influence an end to the conflict in Yemen.

The futures of children depend on it.


ALSO ON HUFFPOST AUSTRALIA

More On This Topic