As lawmakers in the United States Senate prepare to vote on a resolution to end American involvement in the war in Yemen this week, humanitarian officials are warning that the country is on the brink of a near-apocalyptic disaster.
“The violence will have to stop. Unless it does, this country will become a country of living ghosts,” Abeer Etefa, the Senior Spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Program, told The Globe Post.
According to the U.N., Yemen is already facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A recent study estimates that at least 85,000 children have died of extreme starvation as a result of the war and experts warn that millions more are at risk of suffering the same fate if fighting continues.
Yemen – one of the world’s poorest countries – has been engulfed in war since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized the country’s capital Sanaa in 2015.
The U.S. has played a key role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in the conflict on behalf of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government.
In addition to facing mass-starvation, the Yemeni people have been subject to a massive cholera outbreak resulting from the coalition bombing of water treatment facilities as well as potential war crimes committed by both sides in the conflict.
“The violence will have to stop. Unless it does, this country will become a country of living ghosts.”
On October 30, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a ceasefire but said U.S. support for a peace agreement is contingent on the Houthis making concessions.
Although the U.S. announced earlier in November that it will no longer refuel coalition aircraft, the U.S. continues to provide arms, training and intelligence to Saudi Arabia and its partners.
SJ Resolution 54 – introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy – seeks to force the U.S. military to immediately cease all involvement in the war.
“The United States should not be partnering in Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military adventurism,” Sanders said in a statement Monday. “Despite [Donald] Trump’s venal support for the Saudi regime, I am confident that we now stand an excellent chance to win this vote.”
Sanders’ resolution was initially introduced in February and defeated in a 55-44 vote in March.
But the Senator told CBS Sunday that he believes there is renewed support for the legislation after the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi put a political spotlight on the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia.
While Sanders has said he expects a vote on the resolution will be held this week, it remains unclear when exactly the Senate will do so.
On November 14, House Republican leaders prevented a vote on a similar resolution introduced by Congressman Ro Khanna.
“They know the public opinion – even in their own body – is changing and they didn’t allow us to have a fair vote,” Khanna told Democracy Now.
Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations continue to plead with the warring powers to cease hostilities and are warning that each passing day brings more death and despair for the Yemeni people.
“The deterioration of the wellbeing of the people – you can witness it day to day,” Etefa said. “The Yemeni people are dignified, resilient, patient, but I think they are losing hope. They kind of look like they’ve given up on everything. They’ve given up on life. It’s very difficult to describe.”
Aid organizations are struggling to keep up with the growing need for assistance as continued fighting has made it difficult to operate and import food and medicine into the country.
Further, internally displaced Yemenis who left their homes because of fighting have been separated from their jobs, making it very difficult to afford whatever food is available, particularly with high inflation rates caused by an economic downturn resulting from the war.
The U.N. World Food Program is currently providing aid to about eight million Yemenis and will seek to expand their operations to assist an additional four million people in the coming months who are at risk of starvation, Etefa said.
“The Yemeni people are dignified, resilient, patient, but I think they are losing hope.”
“The conflict is pushing the whole country into the brink of famine,” she said. “The numbers keep growing and the question becomes, how much more can you be able to assist? Logistically, is that possible?”
The continuation of the conflict is also putting enormous strain on the medical professionals and volunteers on the ground in Yemen – many of whom have not been paid in months.
“When you look at the director of the center – the head nurse – she looks malnourished herself,” Etefa said. “One of the nurses told me, ‘some days we work 24 hours and sometimes we want to sleep while standing.’”
And for the parents of children who are facing starvation, extreme desperation is forcing many of them to make incredibly difficult choices.
Many Yemeni women are malnourished themselves and cannot breastfeed their babies. Instead, some have resorted to boiling rice and feeding the starchy water to their children in a desperate attempt to provide them with some form of nutrition.
“They’ve exhausted all of the coping mechanisms imaginable,” Etefa said. “So they say ‘okay, I have three kids. I might have to sacrifice this one for the other two.’”