For The 12 Million Kids Facing Crisis In Yemen Right Now, It's Been Called 'A Living Hell'

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
A girl walks with a donkey carrying jerry cans filled with water from a cistern at a make-shift camp...

I’ll admit, I’ve been living in my pandemic bubble for the past few months. I’ve been focused on protecting myself, my family and others from the virus, while trying to deal with remote learning and job demands, continuing social justice efforts, and managing rapidly skyrocketing anxiety. It’s been a lot. Not to mention the blinding rage caused by just about every word that comes out of Trump’s mouth and the maddening news stories about folks ignoring things like science and facts because they want to go to the club with their friends or get a pedicure.

In an effort to manage all of these so that I don’t curl up into a ball in the fetal position sobbing, I’ve admittedly limited my news consumption lately. So when I heard about the Yemen humanitarian crisis, at first I wasn’t entirely sure about the details. But holy smokes, y’all, this is devastating. Absolutely devastating.

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t know about it before now, especially considering that, according to UNICEF, Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Currently, more than 24 million people – about 80% of its population – is in need of humanitarian assistance, and Yemen has been called a “living hell” for the 12 million children living there. Approximately 2 million children under 5 years old are suffering from acute malnutrition.

In case, like me, you weren’t entirely aware of the situation, the crisis began back in 2014, when the Houthis rebel militia movement, which is supported by Iran, took control of several cities in northern Yemen. In response, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of countries to combat the rebels so that Iran wouldn’t gain more control of the region. What followed has been a six-year civil war that has already killed more than 100,000 people, including thousands of civilians.


Yemen is literally caught in the middle of a bloody feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and its people are suffering because of it. The brutality of the war truly knows no bounds, with airstrikes hitting weddings, funerals, and buses carrying school children.

“More than five years of war have devastated Yemen’s health infrastructure, subjected Yemenis to repeated disease outbreaks and malnutrition, and substantially increased vulnerabilities,” UNICEF has said. “Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict.”

Before you shrug this off with a “that’s horrible but it’s happening way over there and we’re over here so what can we do” attitude, you should know that the U.S. is supporting the war by providing billions of dollars in weapons, as well as intelligence and logistics support, to the Saudi-led coalition.

In 2019, President Trump vetoed a resolution passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war, under the guise that U.S. support of the Saudis is necessary to prevent additional civilian deaths. Lies, lies, lies. In fact, a United Nations report shows that Saudis haven’t done any credible investigations into their attacks on civilians or made sufficient efforts to minimize deaths even with the U.S. training.

The harsh reality is that the United States is (at least partly) responsible for the death and destruction in Yemen. As the Guardian reported in the fall of 2019, a team of United Nations investigators presented a devastating report detailing how the U.S., along with Britain and France, are “likely complicit in war crimes in Yemen because of continued weapons sales and intelligence support to the Saudis and their allies, especially the United Arab Emirates.”

Read that again: We are complicit in war crimes.

I don’t know about you, but I feel sick to my stomach knowing that. And I feel more than a little ashamed that I’m just realizing much of this now.

In addition to the effects of war, Yemen is also facing the largest cholera outbreak in history. Cholera is a serious diarrheal illness caused by contaminated water. According to the WHO, as of December 2019, more than 2.1 million Yemenis have been infected with cholera, and thousands have died.

And now…coronavirus. According to VICE, the WHO estimates that at least half of the country could be infected with the novel virus. At least half of the country’s hospitals are not fully functional, and there are less than 1,000 ventilators and ICU beds in the entire country.

In a United Nations report from June 2020, since the beginning of 2020, about 80,000 additional people were forced from their homes, bringing the total displaced to almost four million. 110,000 Yemenis have contracted cholera in the first half of 2020, and recent floods have increased the risk of other serious illnesses like malaria and dengue fever.


Pre-COVID, about 2 million children were out of school due to the war waging, but now, 5 million children are out of school.

“With COVID-19 now spreading rapidly, Yemen is facing an emergency within an emergency,” explains UNICEF. “Sanitation and clean water are in short supply. Only half of health facilities are functioning, and many that remain operational lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus. Many health workers are receiving no salaries or incentives.”

How To Help

1. Donate. There are several ways to provide much-needed financial assistance to the people of Yemen, including the following: UN World Food Programme, Médecins Sans Frontieres, UNICEF, and Mona (a group in Yemen that buys food and supplies locally and distributes it to displaced families).

2. Write your legislators. Demand that they keep pressing the President to withdraw support for the Saudi-led coalition.

3. Sign the petition to stop the flow of weapons to Yemen. This Amnesty International Petition calls for countries currently selling weapons and bombs to the warring coalitions – including the U.S., the U.K. and Canada – to stop the flow of weapons into Yemen. According to Amnesty International, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway have already enacted restrictions on weapon sales to groups using them in Yemen.

4. Spread the word. Once you know about the horrors in Yemen, it’s hard to turn away. The more people now, the more pressure we can put on our government officials to help put an end to this suffering.

5. Stay involved. Yes, there are tons of issues consuming our mental, emotional and financial bandwidth, but we are capable of caring about more than one thing at a time. We can fight for racial justice here in the U.S., while also taking precautions to keep our family and others safe from COVID-19, and taking action to help end the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

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