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Almost 85,000 children under five may have starved to death in Yemen, charity warns as fighting flares in Hodeidah

Save the Children has called for an immediate ceasefire to pull back the country from the brink of famine as civilians report soaring food prices amid renewed fighting 

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday 21 November 2018 01:03 GMT
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Malnutrition centre in Mukalla, Yemen provides care for children suffering hunger and famine

As many as 85,000 children have starved to death in Yemen, according to Save the Children with the charity warning that up to 14 million people are at risk of famine if a ruinous war does not end soon.

Since 2015, when the fighting first broke out the group has estimated that at least 84,700 children under the age of five may have died from malnutrition. That is the equivalent of every child in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, the group added.

The devastating statistic came as fighting flared in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, the frontline of the latest battle, where food prices had soared by at least 400 per cent, according to local residents.

Only two hospitals are now working in the port town, both of which are dangerously close to the front line.

“For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it’s entirely preventable,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Yemen director.

“Because of the fighting parents are delaying taking their children in for treatment of malnutrition, when their internal organs are not working, and they have multiple infections due to the wasting," he added.

Mr Kirolos said at that point medics can do nothing to save them.

The charity warned that the number of cases has dramatically increased since a Saudi Arabia led coalition imposed a month-long blockade on the impoverished country a year ago.

The Gulf alliance launched a bombing campaign in the Spring of 2015 to oust the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that swept control of the country forcing Yemen’s recognised President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.

The fighting has sparked the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Over two-thirds of the population now rely on aid to survive. According to the United Nations, 400,000 children are on the cusp of dying from hunger, 15,000 more than last year.

For the last five months the crisis has deepened as the gulf coalition and Yemen government troops it supports, have waged an intermittent campaign to seize Hodeidah, home to some 300,000 people.

At least 80 percent of the country’s food and medical supplies come through Hodeidah port, but amid the fighting, commercial imports have plummeted.

Goods now coming through are only enough to meet the needs of 16 percent of country’s population, according to the UN. Save the Children said on Wednesday any further decline in imports would be likely to lead directly to famine.

When Nusair started getting sick again, mother Suad* couldn’t afford to make the long trip to the hospital. (Mohammed Awadh / Save the Children)

There had been hopes of ceasefire this week when Yemen’s internationally recognised government said on Monday it would take part in UN-brokered peace talks scheduled next month.

Just hours before Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the rebel group’s political decision maker, tweeted that he wanted the rebels to “halt all military operations” and stop firing missiles on Saudi Arabia.

But on Wednesday residents in Hodeidah told The Independent fighting had flared again in the city, where food prices have soared meaning families were going hungry or eating rotten food to survive.

“Citizens feel trapped here. Food prices have gone up as much as 400%. Some food is smuggled into the city, but nobody is able to buy it due to financial problems,” Ibrahim al-Jaberi said from the city.

Families who can’t afford it are waiting for food items to be expired then they can buy them for cheaper

Ibrahim al-Jaberi, Hodeidah resident 

“Families who can’t afford it are waiting for food items to be expired then they can buy them for cheaper. Everyone here is looking for a way out,” he added.

Save The Children said that Hodeidah’s two remaining hospitals were now both located next to the front line, and just a few days ago one was completely inaccessible because of the fighting.

Those inside the city are too poor to escape and so are forced “to stay and weather it out,” the charity’s country director added.

“I witnessed one old lady who had come into the hospital and was asking to sell the filings in her teeth to pay her way out of Hodeidah,” Mr Kirolos told The Independent.

Nusair*, 13 months old, in his house in Hodeidah, Yemen. (Mohammed Awadh / Save the Children) (Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children)

Meanwhile in the countryside families are forced flee to more remote areas to escape the bombardment, making them further away from health centres that could treat their starving children.

“I can’t go to sleep, it is torturing, and I am worried about my children,” said Saud, a Yemeni monther who son Nusair nearly died from malnutrition last month.

“I am scared of the jet fighters and the hunger,” she added.

Save The Children warned that there are 150,000 children in Hodeidah are at risk if the gulf offensive continues.

“In the past few weeks there have been hundreds of airstrikes in and around Hodeidah. Save the Children is calling for an immediate end to the fighting so no more lives are lost,” Mr Kirolos said.

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