85,000 children may have died of hunger in Yemen, charity says

Peace talks likely in early December as Yemen become worst humanitarian crisis in world

A  severely malnourished boy rests on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen in October. Photograph: Hani Mohammed/AP

A severely malnourished boy rests on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen in October. Photograph: Hani Mohammed/AP

 

US defence secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that peace talks between Yemen’s warring parties were likely to take place in early December in Sweden.

Western countries are pressing for a ceasefire and renewed peace efforts to end the more than three-year conflict, which is seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi group. The Houthis now rule most of Yemen’s population, while the exiled government controls a section of the south.

The announcement by Mr Mattis at the Pentagon came on the heels of a statement by the aid agency Save the Children on Wednesday that underscored the harrowing nature of the conflict: An estimated 85,000 children might have died of hunger since the bombings began in 2015. Experts say Yemen has become the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and 14 million people could soon be on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

“For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it’s entirely preventable,” Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen, said in the statement. “Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop.”

The statement said that 85,000 was a conservative estimate of how many children under age 5 had starved between April 2015, when Saudi Arabia began its air war, and October this year.

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday that Yemen’s parties had given “firm assurances” they were committed to attending peace talks he hopes to convene in Sweden before the end of the year.

“It looks like very, very early in December, up in Sweden we’ll see both the Houthi rebel side and the UN-recognised government,” Mr Mattis told reporters.

An attempt to hold peace talks in Geneva in September was abandoned after three days of waiting for the Houthi delegation.

Mr Mattis said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had ceased offensive operations around Yemen’s key port city of Hodeidah and despite some fighting, the front lines had not changed in at least 72 hours.

Mr Griffiths was in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday and was to visit Hodeidah on Thursday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Hodeidah port handles 80 per cent of the country’s food imports and aid supplies.

“He seeks to finalize the arrangements in the lead-up to the talks in Sweden and to revisit a UN supervisory role for the port and to draw attention to the continued need for a pause in the fighting,” Mr Dujarric said.

The United States stressed its support for Mr Griffiths’ efforts.

“All parties must not delay talks any longer, or insist on travel or transport conditions that call into question good faith intentions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “The time for direct talks . . . is now.”

Yemen’s economy is in crisis and three-quarters of its population, or 22 million people, require aid. Some 8.4 million are on the brink of starvation, although the United Nations has warned that will likely rise to 14 million.

UN food chief David Beasley visited Hodeidah last week and told reporters in New York on Friday the United Nations was “prepared, if necessary, if all parties desire” to take over the operational capacity of the port.– Reuters and New York Times