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Trump Is 'Distracting Us' From The World's Biggest Crisis

A population about the size of Australia's is at risk of famine.

30/08/2017 2:31 PM AEST | Updated 30/08/2017 2:31 PM AEST
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AL JOUMHOURI HOSPITAL, YEMEN - 24 APRIL 2017: Batool Ali, aged 6, stands on a hospital bed. Batool suffers from severe acute malnutrition.

It's time to stop ignoring what is the biggest humanitarian crisis since WWII.

In Africa and the Middle East, about 20 million people are currently at risk of famine, and the Australian public, with most of the world, has been paying scant attention.

I've just returned from Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East and the one hardest hit by a horrific regional crisis that is marked by lack of food, medicine, safety and hope.

Yemen is a country with a population roughly the size of Australia's but where 7 million people are at the risk of famine.

So, why hasn't this crisis galvanised the Australian public? Why haven't there been charity concerts and rock stars lending their names to the cause?

Simply put, the world has been distracted. "It's all Trump, Trump, Trump." That was the conclusion from David Beasley, the director of the World Food Program, and it's hard to argue with.

CARE International
Families and communities in Amran, the northern province Yemen, where poor women face impossible choices to feed, or treat their children.

Right now humanitarian organisations like CARE are in emergency crisis mode. We are doing all we can to provide life-saving relief to families in desperate need across numerous countries.

We often assume such famines occur because of a lack of rain. But it's not true. There has been less rain in this region lately but drought did not cause this. Humans did.

The common element is conflict. And as always, children and pregnant women are most vulnerable.

Two years of war in Yemen has not just left people starving, it has also brought an epidemic of deadly, yet preventable cholera.

In a remote village in the country's west, we met 38-year-old Karima Hussain who just days earlier had lost her son to the bacterial disease.

"He was vomiting from the moment he got sick to the moment he passed away," she told us, describing an ordeal that lasted just five hours.

"He died with an empty stomach," she said before pausing, fighting back tears.

"He died so suddenly."

Yemen is dealing with the world's worst cholera outbreak. Close to half a million people have been affected by the epidemic already and almost 2,000 people have died. That's one person dying nearly every hour from cholera.

The cause is simple. A person becomes infected by ingesting contaminated food or water. And the consequence can be fatal. Up to 50 percent of victims who don't get adequate rehydration therapy die.

Cholera is not difficult to treat. And it doesn't travel fast when water is clean and conditions are sanitary. But, two years of war has wreaked havoc on public services and infrastructure.

This is a country that has lost the ability to feed itself, treat its sick and provide fresh water to people in desperate need.

The health network has virtually collapsed. About half the country's medical facilities have been closed or destroyed and import restrictions mean lifesaving medical aid often doesn't get past the docks.

People are dying of treatable ailments because even the most basic services are no longer available.

CARE International
In Yemen's Northern Province, CARE is providing clean water and cash for work programmes, including through the creation of solar powered water pumps, and supporting the development of local schools and health centres.

Meanwhile, funding for the relief effort has fallen woefully short of the mark. Less than half of what's needed has been raised, leaving a funding gap of $1.2 billion.

Back in April, several governments and international donors made pledges to respond but only part of that has materialised. Any further delays, whether from a lack of donations or bureaucratic lethargy, will result in avoidable deaths.

Two-thirds of the country needs humanitarian assistance and protection. Everything is needed and everything is urgent, from food and shelter to medicine and sanitation.

It hasn't always been like this. I was last in Yemen nine years ago. Back then the streets of the capital Sana'a were lively, filled with coffee shops and markets. Today there is none of that, only the evidence of vicious military campaigns.

The combination of disease, starvation and war -- which you see evidence of everywhere now -- has become a triple threat, a perfect storm of disaster for Yemen's people.

As a global community, our ambivalence to such human tragedy must stop.

As aid workers, politicians and as a society we cannot allow this to happen on our watch.

We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Yemen to try stop their suffering.

CARE International

People will surely ask why Australians should help. Well answer for yourself. If a person was spotted drowning off your local beach, and you were a capable swimmer, would you try save them? Or would you say not my problem and look the other way?

I understand the complex political situation can be overwhelming. But we must remember the individuals, not governments, who are dealing with the consequences of these brutal conflicts.

Everywhere I visited in Yemen, I was deeply touched by the warmth, hospitality and kindness shown to me. People with virtually nothing offered everything they had to a stranger like me.

What will it take for the world to take notice of their plight?

On Saturday (September 2), it will be two years since the shocking image of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi was splashed across newspapers around the globe.

The picture of his lifeless body washed up on a beach in Turkey, as heart-breaking as it was, was enough to shock the world into action. Indeed, the Australian Government immediately announced it would accept an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Like Syria, the situation in this region, particularly Yemen, is equally desperate if not worse.

It shouldn't need to take another horrific image of a toddler, another needless death, to make us care.

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