Yemeni conflict could cause 400,000 children under five to die from malnutrition in 2021, says report

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

Almost 2.5 million children under the age of five in Yemen are set to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, according to a report.

The report by Food and Agriculture Organization, Unicef, and the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners, also estimates that 400,000 could have severe acute malnutrition, which is potentially fatal.

Additionally, the report notes around 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women in Yemen are projected to be acutely malnourished this year, which has a major knock-on effect for their children.

Credit: Mercy Corps

A variety of factors have contributed to the alarming situation in Yemen in recent times, most notably war, economic decline, the Covid-19 pandemic and humanitarian organisations suffering a funding shortfall.

“The increasing number of children going hungry in Yemen should shock us all into action,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“More children will die with every day that passes without action. Humanitarian organisations need urgent predictable resources and unhindered access to communities on the ground to be able to save lives.”

The conflict has had a profound impact on Yemen. Credit: PA

Why is Yemen at war?

The current conflict began in 2015, but it's rooted in the 2011 Arab Spring. During Yemen's uprising, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced by his second-in-command, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr Hadi was widely thought to be a weak leader with a corrupt administration.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement took this opportunity to seize their northern heartland of Saada province and the surrounding areas.

Mr Hadi went into exile in early 2015.

Credit: Mercy Corps

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Sunni Muslim allies - backed by the US, UK and France - and sought to stop Iran from gaining influence on its border. They began air strikes in the hope of toppling the Houthis and reinstating Mr Hadi's government.

There has been infighting on both sides of the conflict and a complex deadlock has caused what most consider to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Since it began, the conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the country and destroyed infrastructure.

The US last month designated the Houthi movement as a terrorist organisation, causing concern for humanitarian groups to fear they would not be permitted to send food and other resources into Yemen.

Destitute Yemenis have been forced to set up shelter in caves. Credit: Mercy Corps

Why has the world become more concerned than ever

As a result of the conflict, Yemen is the Arab world's poorest country.

The UN has warned that coronavirus is currently surging throughout the country, largely due to inadequate testing capabilities and a health system in disarray.

The UN's humanitarian appeal for Yemen fell $1 billion short of what aid agencies needed last year.

What is the UK's involvement in the conflict?

The UK has been widely criticised for its arms sales to the Saudis since the conflict began.

The UK government’s arms export policy towards Saudi Arabia was found to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal in June 2019.

British manufacturers exported arms to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia worth around £11billion in 2019, official figures show.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy recently warned the government that the UK “cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer” in the conflict, and urged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to cease arms exports immediately.

It came after Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told MPs the government’s commitment to a peaceful settlement in Yemen is “unwavering”.

A Yemeni child is fed in hospital. Credit: PA

Speaking during an urgent question on the matter from Conservative former minister Tobias Ellwood, Ms Nandy told the Commons: “We are not a bystander to this conflict. UK arms, training and technical support sustains the war in Yemen and the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

“More than 80% of Saudi’s arms imports come from the US and the UK, so the US’s decision to end all support for offensive operations including relevant arms sales is welcome, but it leaves the UK dangerously out of step with our allies and increasingly isolated.

“What is worse is that the UK is the penholder for Yemen at the UN – we cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer in this conflict.”

Since coming into office, the new US President Joe Biden has announced and end to “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales", which offers a sign of hope for the country.

In a statement, humanitarian aid organisation Mercy Corps told ITV News: “The tragedy of the hunger crisis in Yemen is not that the country lacks food.

"One in five pre-school age children in Yemen today aren’t getting enough nutritious food to eat because in the wake of war and catastrophic economic collapse, their parents simply can’t afford to buy what’s in the markets.

"The horrors Yemeni families are enduring are man-made and preventable.

“According to the UN, an estimated 80% of the population in Yemen—24 million people—require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need.

"To end the suffering, all parties must commit to a peaceful resolution of the war and dialogue to end the violence, facilitate the delivery of lifesaving aid, and chart a course toward recovery."