Yemen’s nearly 27 million people are facing a multitude of crises including terrorism, war, internal displacement, and disease. Outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria, and other contagious diseases are spreading throughout the country. Between 28 September 2016 and 12 March 2018, more than one million suspected cholera cases and 2,385 deaths from the disease were reported in Yemen. Furthermore, the war in Yemen has decimated the country’s healthcare system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 16.4 million people lack access to basic healthcare. The crisis is forcing doctors to flee major areas of Yemen; without proper medical supplies, staff, expertise, or safe areas to treat these diseases, the Yemeni people are facing immense medical strain.
However, on top of these health issues, nearly 17 million people – around 70 percent of Yemen’s population – are on the verge of famine. By the numbers, it is considered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s food insecurity is not a new problem, as almost 90 percent of its basic food staples are imported, but the parties to the conflict have weaponized the crisis and created a man-made famine. Man-made famines, or intentional starvation, are a growing trend in asymmetrical warfare with a lethal success rate.
Deaths related to man-made famines are typically caused by disruption of the normal production and distribution of food. The manipulation of food supplies has always been a significant tactic of war. In Yemen, both warring factions are withholding and confiscating food aid through the Saudi-imposed blockade and the infighting throughout the country. This in turn causes the prices of food to skyrocket, exacerbating food insecurity and contributing the threat of famine.
Several international organizations are distributing food aid, teaching nutrition classes, and rebuilding livestock populations. However, the problems in Yemen outweigh these solutions. Starving civilian communities is designated as a war crime according to the Article 54 of the Geneva Convention and Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi factions are both attempting to starve Yemen into submission, and in doing so committing war crimes.
All parties to the conflict display a disregard for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law, and impede the principled and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance. There must be a concerted effort to ensure the 17 million people in desperate need of food and medical supplies receive them promptly. Removing all aspects of the blockade to allow the distribution of food, and implementing a ceasefire will begin the reconciliation and peace building process Yemen urgently needs.