A young boy, his haunting eyes wide open, lies on a hospital bed in Houdieda, a port city in western Yemen. His lips are wrapped around his stick-thin arm, while a fly rests on his skeletal body. He is bare-chested and the outlines of ribs are clearly visible though his skin. A syringe lies on the sheets patterned with clouds and cartoons.
The raging civil war in Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations, has been largely ignored in the deluge of news from the region. But a series of images of starving and malnourished children in Yemen show the nation’s mounting crisis.
Hostilities have escalated between forces loyal to former president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven into exile last February, and those of Shiite Houthi rebels loyal to a party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Gulf Arab states has launched airstrikes on Houthi targets at Hadi’s request. More than 10,0000 civilians have been killed and wounded since then, according to the United Nations.
Air strikes and a Saudi imposed naval, land and air blockade on Yemen, which imports over 90% of its staple foods, have caused food prices to soar, making it impossible for Yemenis to afford food to feed themselves and their families. According to recent figures from the United Nations, more than 14 million Yemenis (about half of the country’s population) are going hungry and urgently need food and medication.
The food crisis is particularly harsh for children – at least 370,000 suffer from severe malnutrition. “We’re talking about a 50% increase compared to the number we had earlier this year,” Mohammed al-Asaadi, a spokesman for the UN children’s agency in Yemen told Al Jazeera. Acute malnutrition, as evidenced in the frail children recorded in these photographs, has become a major cause of death for children under five in the country.
Peace has been elusive. Last month, talks backed by the United Nations ended without an agreement after Houthi rebels and the party of Saleh announced the formation of new governing body to run the country. Airstrikes have often targeted civilian areas and on Sept. 12, an airstrike on a water well in Northern Yemen on the eve of the Eid al-Adha, reportedly killed 30 and wounded 17, including children and first responders. The US is complicit in the conflict, according to an editorial in The New York Times in August 2016, because it sells arms to Saudi Arabia.
A food crisis has been building in the conflict-ridden country for some years now, as is depicted in the pictures going back to 2012.
“Children are paying the highest price,” the UN said.