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Yemen’s Health Crisis: The Result of an Ongoing Civil War

Yemen is currently viewed as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. In 2015, a Saudi and Emirati-led coalition intervened in Yemen. They supported the internationally recognized government against the Ansar Allah, more commonly known as the Houthis. This led to a civil war throughout Yemen. This conflict is just as intense today as it was six years ago. This has made it difficult to control communicable disease and chronic malnutrition, leading to the near collapse of the humanitarian response. Due to this, the country is also, for the third year in a row, at the top of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) annual Emergency Watchlist. 

A mobile health clinic in Yemen. Due to the ongoing fighting, it is dangerous or impossible for families to go to health centers.

The IRC’s deputy nutrition coordinator Abeer Fowzi says, “Yemen faces a triple threat from conflict, hunger and a collapsing international response. At the end of 2020, malnutrition for children under 5 was the highest ever recorded, yet, in the face of an unprecedented threat, the world has turned its back on Yemen”. Yemen has a population of 29.3 million, and 24 million of those citizens are in need of assistance. The funding for humanitarian programs has dropped significantly, forcing the scaling back and closure of 31 out of 41 major United Nations programs. The 8.5 million food rations being provided by the World Food Program has also been cut in half. This is leaving three million fewer citizens without aid each month. Along with this dire situation, in 2020, Yemen needed at least $3.4 billion, but the Humanitarian Response Plan only received $1.9 billion. 

Since the start of Yemen’s civil war up until late 2019, more than 100,000 are estimated to have lost their lives as a direct result of the war. More than 130,000 citizens have died as an indirect result of the war. These Yemeni have died from starvation and disease. The outbreak of cholera began in 2017 and has killed thousands of people, despite the disease being completely treatable. Cholera is a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water. This disease causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, and, if left untreated, can become fatal within hours. There were more than one million cases of cholera in 2017 alone. There have been another 991,000 cases reported between 2018 and 2019. 

Diphtheria is also spreading throughout the country at a fast rate. Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by bacteria that produces a toxin. This infection can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and death. In Yemen there is a scarce amount of medical supplies and limited access to medical care. More than 80% of the country’s population lacks food, fuel, and drinking water. 

Yemen is currently considered one of the most dangerous places for children to live. This is due to the high rates of communicable diseases, limited access to routine immunization and health services for children and families, poor infant and young child feeding practices, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene systems. Around two million children under the age of 5 are classified as acutely malnourished. It is expected that of these two million children, in 2021 over 400,000 of them are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition which is deadly if they are not treated urgently. A child’s physical and cognitive development is damaged if they suffer from malnutrition during their first two years of life. 

Children in a camp who have been displaced.

More than half of the health facilities in Yemen no longer function. There is no government support towards the health system, making outside assistance the only organizations preventing total collapse. The International Committee of the Red Cross is supplying hospitals, health facilities, medicine, and emergency medical supplies to help the people in Yemen as much as they can. The IRC has been providing clean drinking water and reproductive health care services along with supporting primary health facilities, emergency obstetric and newborn care centers, and hundreds of health care workers. They also deploy mobile health teams to remote areas, run therapeutic feeding programs for malnourished children, and help with the establishment of a COVID-19 isolation unit. 

Joe Biden and his administration have a focus on ending the war in Yemen and bringing peace to one of the poorest countries in the world. Without the chance of peace, the citizens of Yemen will only continue to get sicker and the war will continue to escalate.