An estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death as a result of Yemen’s civil war, a report from Save the Children has found, as the charity urged an immediate ceasefire to prevent more loss of life.
The figure is a conservative estimate based on UN data on severe acute malnutrition, which the international body says has afflicted more than 1.3 million children since the conflict began in 2015 between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition that seeks to restore Yemen’s exiled government.
About 14 million people – half of Yemen’s population – are currently at risk of famine, largely because of Saudi border blockades designed to weaken the Houthis, which have also strangled civilian access to food, fuel, aid and commercial goods.
Fears for Yemen’s civilian population have increased in recent weeks because of an escalation in fighting around the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, through which about 80% of the country’s imports flow.
Even a small amount of damage to the port’s facilities, and a delay in aid deliveries, is likely to lead the UN to declare a widespread famine.
“I am scared of the war and worried we won’t have food. It is distressing,” said Suad, a mother to 13-month-old Nusair, whom Save the Children is treating for severe acute malnutrition. “I can’t go to sleep, it is torturing, and I am worried about my children. I couldn’t live if any harm came to them.”
The new violence in Hodeidah has forced the charity to divert shipments for the rebel-held north of the country via Aden, a city nominally loyal to the government, causing delivery delays of up to two weeks.
“This conflict has created a perfect storm of conditions that has driven the country to the brink of famine,” said Bhanu Bhatnagar, a Save the Children spokesman. “The violence has disrupted food production and destroyed hospitals and health centres where the weak and sick can be treated.
“Barriers to importing and distributing supplies have severely restricted the amount of food getting into and around the country. And in markets where food is actually available, ordinary people simply can’t afford to buy it as salaries have been unpaid for months and the currency has collapsed in value.”
The UN’s special envoy to Yemen has extracted promises from both the coalition and the Houthis to attend peace talks at the end of November after a failed round in September.
A draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was presented to the UN security council on Monday, although a vote has not yet been timetabled.
“For children under the age of five this situation is proving a death sentence,” Bhatnagar said. “What is shocking about Yemen is that these 85,000 deaths are not a result of drought or climate change, they are entirely the result of a manmade conflict that is fuelled by countries who have the power to stop it.”
The UK along with other western governments has been repeatedly criticised by rights groups for its support for the Saudi-led coalition, including arms sales.