Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, explained in 2 charts
The deaths, starvation, displacement and destruction of infrastructure caused by the conflict are not unknown.
At least 10,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations, while other estimates are much higher. More than 50,000 have been wounded.
The images of bare children, bones poking through pale skin, are hard to look at.
And yet, it’s difficult to comprehend the scale of devastation the violence has caused.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment report, recently released by the U.S. government, outlines some of the latest harrowing statistics coming out of Yemen.
It lists humanitarian impacts such as famine and disease, predicting things will get worse in 2019.
“The fighting has left more than 22-million people, or approximately 75 per cent of the population, in need of assistance, with millions of people at severe risk of famine by the UN definition — numbers that are likely to rise quickly if disruptions to aid access continue,” the report reads.
Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world before a Saudi-led coalition went to war with Iran-allied rebels in March 2015 in a failed bid to drive them from the capital and much of the country’s north.
WATCH: Millions facing starvation in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition has come under mounting international criticism for civilian casualties caused by airstrikes, the destruction of basic infrastructure and its blockade of key Yemeni ports, which are a lifeline for vital aid.
Hunger and illnesses in Yemen
The problem is worsened by reports that even if aid reaches Yemen, it is not going to those who need it most.
A recent analysis by a coalition of global relief groups found that even with the food aid that is coming in, more than half of the population is not getting enough to eat — 15.9 million of Yemen’s 29-million people.
In some parts of the country, fighting, roadblocks and bureaucratic obstacles have reduced the amount of aid getting in. In other areas, aid gets in but is lost or stolen before it gets to the hungriest families.
Counting the number of people who have starved to death in Yemen is difficult, because of the challenges of getting into areas shaken by violence, and because starving people often officially die from diseases that prey on their weakened conditions.
The numerous challenges are further complicated by the fact that hospitals, schools, and food-storage facilities have been targeted in the violence.
According to charity Save the Children, more than half of the country’s health facilities are now closed or partially functioning. At the same time, Yemen is grappling with the worst cholera outbreak in the world, reportedly affecting well over one-million people.
Then there are other illnesses, such as diphtheria, that are also more prominent.
WATCH: Saudi airstrike hits bus killing dozens, including children
Statistics gathered by the United Nations and advocacy organizations paint an overwhelmingly dire situation.
But there is much more to be told.
Save the Children Canada CEO Bill Chambers explained to Global News that Yemen is the “perfect storm of humanitarian, protection and economic crises” — and they’re all fuelling each other.
“Yemen’s children are in the eye of that storm and their prospects of survival are dwindling each day. Children are struggling to survive the triple threat of bombs, starvation and disease,” he said.
An added challenge has been raising awareness about Yemen’s crisis and getting Canadians to truly care about those affected.
Unlike other recent conflicts, like Syria for example, Yemen hasn’t generated the same outpouring of support — in Canada or in other parts of the world.
Chambers said it’s a complex issue, but one that is gradually improving through increased media coverage and awareness campaigns.
“The reality is that Canadians are generous, but their areas of support are related to where the media focuses its coverage — if the Canadian media isn’t covering the crisis, the Canadian public is not as engaged,” Chambers said.
“The same is true with the Syria crisis – media coverage really has an impact on the public’s level of engagement.”
Do we really care?
Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon who researches people’s reaction to such conflicts explained when a problem is so large, people often don’t identify with it.
Slovic called it the “singularity effect.” His research found that as the number of deaths in a conflict increase, fewer people pay attention.
“The difference between no lives at risk and one is huge,” Slovic said. “But if I said that there were 87 people at risk… and then you realize it’s 88, you don’t feel any different about 88 than 87.”
WATCH: Yemen on brink of famine, health workers plead for help
Janice Stein, founding director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, noted people and newspapers have limited attention spans.
“A story of an ongoing, debilitating, grinding war only gets so much airtime in a Twitter universe and a social-media universe. Everybody knows about the war in Syria — that’s not the problem — but they’re only willing to hear so much of it before they change the channel.”
Stein says those who are on the ground losing family members, starving or getting bombed don’t forget the conflict — that’s why empathy is important.
What happens next?
While a peace agreement was reached between the Houthis and the internationally recognized Hadi government in December 2018, Chambers said more progress needs to be made to end the violence.
Last week, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, said there is “political will” to reach a lasting ceasefire.
“We have seen the two parties demonstrate remarkable political will, first to reach a ceasefire agreement, and then to abide by it. What we need to see now is the implementation of the provisions… fully and rapidly,” Griffiths said.
He acknowledged that things are moving slower than expected, but said: “Such changes in timelines are expected.”
Despite the optimism, the deal brokered in Stockholm is fragile.
WATCH: UN says ceasefire reached in critical Yemen seaport
Yemen’s warring parties have failed to pull troops from the country’s main port following the truce, reviving the threat of an all-out assault on Hodeidah that risks cutting supply lines and unleashing famine.
Griffiths has been shuttling between the parties to rescue the deal.
The deal was the first major diplomatic breakthrough of the war, which will be four years old in March.
— With files from Global News reporter Emanuela Campanella, Reuters, Associated Press
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