A warning from the United Nations that Yemen could be facing the worst famine in a century should jolt the world into action to bring an end to the catastrophic four-year war that is ravaging the country.
The conflict between Houthi rebels in the north of the country, who receive Iranian support, and an exiled government backed by Saudi Arabia, has killed 10,000 people, left millions displaced and created a humanitarian crisis. While the world averts its gaze, Yemenis continue to die at a horrifying rate. The latest warning comes from Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen, who says that if the war continues, famine could sweep across the country in the next three months. Grande estimates that 12-13 million civilians are at risk of starvation.
That death and suffering can occur on such a scale, and for it to be preventable, is a shameful indictment of world powers. Ultimately, a brokered peace deal will be required, but steps could be taken immediately to ease the crisis. The most effective would be for the international community to lean on Saudi Arabia to end its ferocious bombardment of Houthi-controlled areas. The Saudi-led coalition, in its ruthless campaign to displace rebels from strategic centres, has bombed markets, hospitals and weddings. Just last week, air strikes killed at least 10 civilians in Hodeidah province.
Until now, there has been limited appetite in western capitals to confront Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the Yemeni bombardment. Riyadh is an important ally for the US, Britain and others, and the young crown prince has been assiduously courted since emerging as heir apparent. However, the disappearance – and apparent murder – of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has put more pressure on Riyadh than at any point since 9/11. The monarchy is on the defensive, its crown prince suddenly vulnerable. As a result, the West enjoys new leverage over the regime. It should use it not only to establish the truth about Khashoggi's fate but to demand an end to the bloodshed in Yemen.