Crying shame: Yemen's war babies starving to death
UN call for humanitarian ceasefire around food-aid distribution facilities is ignored
Ahmed Hassan is only a few months old, but his emaciated frame twitches as he cries in pain when Yemeni doctors gently place him on a scale. He is starving.
In the next room, nurses make baby formula by the pitcher, filling syringes to ration a portion for each malnourished child who comes to Sabaeen Hospital in the rebel-held capital for emergency treatment.
Too weak to swallow, some babies are fed through feeding tubes that go through the nose directly into the stomach.
After being fed, some of them appear to feel a bit better, crawling over to play with other emaciated children in the clinic, tubes still taped to their faces.
“Life’s become really very difficult ... but we do our best, given the circumstances,” said Umm Tarek, as her nine-month-old baby was treated for malnutrition.
“We’re not from here, so we rent an old, old house for 10,000 riyals ($40) in Hiziaz,” south of Sana’a, she said.
“Then my baby got sick because we used to give him formula, but now we can’t afford both the house and powdered milk anymore.”
Four years of war between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels have pushed the country to the brink of mass starvation.
The United Nations warned last week that 14 million Yemenis are at serious risk of famine, as the war shows no sign of waning.
Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian chief, said the danger of famine in Yemen is “much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives”.
‘At death’s door’
At Sabaeen hospital, paediatrician Sharaf Nashwan said some families can’t afford transport to the facility.
“So their children are left for days or weeks suffering malnutrition, until someone helps them out with a little money to get their kids to hospital. But by then we’re looking at a really severe case,” he said.
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen and more than 56,000 injured since 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.
This month the UN called for a humanitarian ceasefire around facilities involved in food-aid distribution, but neither the Iran-backed rebels nor Saudi Arabia and its allies have heeded the call.
The two sides are fighting for control of the country, which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and is home to a string of valuable ports.
The rebels now control the capital Sanaa, along with much of Yemen’s northern highlands and western Hodeida, Yemen’s largest port, through which nearly three-quarters of imports flow.
A blockade has been imposed on the port and Sana’a airport by the Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemen’s airspace.
Yemenis struggling to survive such conditions are also confronted with a collapsed economy, leaving government clerks and teachers without pay for months.
The International Monetary Fund expects Yemen’s economy will contract by 2.6% in 2018, while inflation is forecast to hit 42%.
In the face of such dire circumstances, paediatrician Nashwan said medical staff do their utmost to save the children in their care.
“The cases that we get here at the hospital tend to be severe. At death’s door, sometimes. We do our jobs, do everything we can to push them back to good health,” he said.
“Some get well. Others die.”