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One doctor’s desperate attempt to save Yemen's starving children

“This is a malnutrition crisis, and an even worse one is looming in the distance.”

by Amel Guettatfi
Dec 14 2018, 8:16pm

Dr. Makiya al-Aslami runs the only health clinic in Aslam, the poorest district in Yemen, where one in six children is severely malnourished. She walks from bed to bed, checking on her patients, all of them children. She measures their small forearms covered in paper-thin skin and weighs their slight bodies, watching for the tiniest, often imperceptible improvements — a quarter-pound increase, a slightly less distended belly.

On any given day, she handles up to 250 cases.

“This is a malnutrition crisis,” Dr. al-Aslami, 40, told VICE News. “And an even worse one is looming in the distance.”

Somehow, the whole of Yemen presents an even grimmer picture. About 20 million Yemenis are hungry, a shocking 70 percent of the country, according to latest estimates from the United Nations, with 250,000 facing “starvation, death and destitution.” Save the Children estimates at least 85,000 kids have already died of starvation since the war began in 2015.

Nearly four years of war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition has decimated the Arab Gulf’s poorest country, killing tens of thousands and tipping Yemen towards the edge of famine. Though both sides have been accused of crimes, the Saudi coalition, which has waged a brutal air campaign and blockade, bears much of the blame. The kingdom is responsible for cutting off most supply routes in Yemen, including the crucial port of Hodeidah, where about 80 percent of the Yemen’s food and aid comes through.

“Even if they bring the entire world's aid and all the crops necessary for life, if the war does not end, Yemen is doomed, one way or another.”

This week, in Sweden, the coalition and the Houthi rebels agreed to a ceasefire in Hodeidah that would include both forces withdrawing out of the port city. This would be the biggest step in a peace process that, despite numerous efforts, has failed to take hold in the war-torn country. But for Yemenis like Dr. al-Aslami who continue to bear the brunt of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the latest deal is only one part of a lasting solution for peace.

“War taught us patience. War taught us resilience,” Dr. al-Aslami said. “But even if they bring the entire world's aid and all the crops necessary for life, if the war does not end, Yemen is doomed, one way or another.”

This video segment originally aired Dec. 13, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Cover image: In this Oct. 1, 2018, photo, a severely malnourished boy rests on a hospital bed at the Aslam Health Center, Hajjah, Yemen (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed).

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