Water Crisis, War and Disease: When Regimes Kill Children

By Andaleeb Rizvi


The war in Yemen has cost more than 10,000 lives while 18.8 million people need some kind of humanitarian assistance or protection as per the United Nations. Every 10 minutes, a child under five years of age dies due to a preventable disease and 462,000 children face immediate risk of death from malnutrition. Cholera death toll has crossed more than 1,800 people as per World Health Organisation reports in June 2017, while the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that 600,000 can die due to the disease this year. With more than 17 million people facing food insecurity, combined with poor sanitation and lack of access to clean drinking water, the situation is bound to worsen.

From Houthis using child soldiers with 762 verified cases of child recruitment to 58 coalition strikes killing 192 children, human rights violations in Yemen continue unabated. The conflict in Yemen between the Houthis (Zaidi Shias) and almost the rest of the Sunni Middle East along with the United States and United Kingdom has put more than half of the Yemeni population – especially children – in the centre of a preventable disaster.

Nearly half of the 101 strikes on schools and medical facilities have been attributed to the coalition. Now only 45 percent of the medical facilities are functional in the war ravaged country, making it more difficult to provide aid where needed. In recent years, urban warfare has wreaked havoc in conflicts between various rebel groups, governments, and terrorist organisations.

The United Nations has been urging both the warring sides to put people before their agendas and resolve the conflict amicably to end the fighting. There have been countless warnings and cries from various other humanitarian organisations too who are asking to end the conflict. However neither party is paying attention to the calls for peace, and any change in the situation is not yet in sight. Both the parties are negligent of the cost of their sparring over political, economic, and religious differences.

Yemen was already an impoverished country prior to the conflict which the coalition blames on Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels.

The country, where refugees from Somalia, South Sudan and other African countries used to arrive for perhaps a slightly better life, is now offering a far worse situation to the people who left behind their conflict-ridden areas. Instead the Yemenis are now fleeing to these volatile African countries after more than 30 hours of travel by the sea, where after reaching; they are welcomed by uncertainty, poverty, and hunger.

While Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where infighting as well as proxy wars has left the people impoverished and vulnerable to malnourishment, disease, and ultimately death, the case of Yemen is more complicated due to its geographic location.

Even before the war, 50 per cent of the people in Yemen were living below the poverty line and the country was recording one of the highest rates of malnourishment. Now, the situation has worsened and put more than 80 per cent of the people below the poverty line.

The Yemenis are not just facing the wrath of the Houthis or the coalition; they are also facing the fury of climate change and improper management of resources. Delving deep down into the causes of so much turmoil in the country leads to the issues connected to climate change and the resultant lack of access to drinking water and food. One of the major challenges for Yemenis was and is the availability of water. While the international threshold for water stress is 1,700 cubic meters per year, various reports claim Yemenis have access to a mere 140 cubic meters per year. Compared to Middle East average water of 1,000 cubic meters per year, Yemen is the worst hit when it comes to water scarcity and access to potable water.

This had already increased the dependence of Yemenis on foreign aid, both direct and indirect. Out of the total population of approximately 27 million, around 20 million people are dependent on aid. However, the war has made the provision of aid far more difficult for the international organisations.

Many aid workers have been kidnapped, detained and killed in Yemen. In February 2017, seven Norwegian Refugee Council workers, three national staff, three casual workers, and a contract driver were detained for a week in Al Hudaydah, Yemen, by the local authorities. In April 2017 the Houthi rebels abducted five staff members and two drivers, of International Medical Corps, accusing them of spying.

In the situation that the poor Yemeni people are facing, the callousness of interest groups towards them is atrocious. There is a need to bring all the warring parties on a table and discuss the matter in all seriousness and without weapons. As long as they do not take heed to the situation and continue with their ego-wars, the people of Yemen will continue to suffer and perhaps be wiped out due to a famine.