World Food Day is celebrated on Oct. 16, but in Yemen people are eating leaves just to survive. A civil war between a Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has plunged the already impoverished country near(er to) famine.
If we do anything on World Food Day, let’s feed Yemen’s starving population. We must end the war and hunger that is killing civilians. We must ensure humanitarian access to every part of Yemen so people can get life-saving food and nutrition.
All Yemenis are at risk of some calamity in this war. Bombs are hitting homes, schools and hospitals.
The United States has to stop its support of the Saudi coalition and become a peacemaker only. The United States has been providing intelligence and refueling to Saudi planes. As U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., says, “How can the Trump administration deny what everyone can see with our own two eyes? It is as clear as day that Saudi-led coalition is recklessly – and likely intentionally – killing innocent civilians and children, and they’re doing it with U.S. bombs and so-called targeting assistance.”
Even where the bombs don’t fall, hunger is present. Food shortages continue to worsen.
Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East before the conflict erupted. Now millions are on the brink of starvation. Around 2/3 of Yemenis live in hunger, according to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). But the fighting has blocked access for WFP and other humanitarian agencies that are the people’s lifeline.
The Hodeidah governorate in Yemen is where the fighting has intensified between the Saudi coalition and the Houthis. Civilians are being killed, and there are military blockades of key ports and roads for moving humanitarian supplies. Yemenis will starve unless those roads are opened.
As Carolyn Miles, president of Save the Children, says, “What happens in Hodeidah has a direct impact on children and families across Yemen. Even the smallest disruption to food, fuel and aid supplies through its vital port could mean death for hundreds of thousands of malnourished children unable to get the food they need to stay alive.”
The United States has to exert diplomatic power in getting the Saudi coalition and the Houthis off the battlefield and to the peace table. There is no military solution in sight for the conflict. The country will starve to death if the war continues.
Malnutrition is slowly killing a generation of children. Without access to food, small children will become stunted physically and mentally. There is no recovery once this happens. The children may die as a result.
Rhode Island-based Edesia has been producing Plumpy’Sup around the clock to send to WFP in Yemen. This enriched peanut paste can save Yemen’s children. But military blockades have to end so all children can receive these and other foods.
A cease-fire would allow full humanitarian access and encourage peace talks. You cannot build confidence for peace talks if people are starving.
David Beasley, the World Food Program’s director, pleads “Only an immediate cessation of hostilities will give the humanitarian community the sustained access it needs to provide the food and other vital assistance needed to save Yemeni lives.”
WFP, Save the Children, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services and other agencies can save more lives if the fighting stops.
The United States must also ensure funding through its Food for Peace program. Started by President Dwight Eisenhower, Food for Peace provides emergency aid overseas and is active in Yemen today supporting WFP. But much more funding is needed.
However, President Trump threatened to eliminate Food for Peace and reduce U.S. hunger relief programs in the budget. That cannot happen. Congress must take charge here to ensure U.S. food aid increases during these times of massive need.
As World Food Day arrives we cannot sit idly by as Yemen starves. The United States must do everything possible to feed Yemen and give a generation of children hope.
Author William Lambers partnered with the UN World Food Program on “Ending World Hunger.” His writings have been published by the New York Times, History News Network, The Hill, HuffPost, Newsweek and other media outlets.