‘Only God can save us’: Yemeni children starve as aid is held at border
Iona Craig reports from Yemen where aid agencies cannot get vital shipments into the war-torn country already gripped by cholera outbreak
Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemens western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition.
Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the worlds worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows.
Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.
Less than 45% of the countrys medical facilities are still operating most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015.
More than 200 miles away in the southern governorate of Lahij, territory under the control of the coalition, more emaciated children lie listless, gasping for every breath.
These scenes are replicated in therapeutic feeding centres in the capital, Sanaa, and at the heart of the conflict-ravaged city of Taiz. There in the shadows of a single incandescent bulb, what appears to be a blanket bundled into a dark corner is in fact three month-old Elias Basem, who has spent 20 days of his short life being treated for severe malnutrition.
Aid agencies are now warning that Yemens already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a nightmare scenario if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the countrys land, sea and air ports a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadhs international airport this month.
United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country. More than 20 million Yemenis over 70% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked.
Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.
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