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Middle East

Millions starving as Western-backed coalition bombs Yemen

media Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, who is affected by severe acute malnutrition, sits on a bed at the al-Thawra hospital in the Red Sea port city of Houdieda, Yemen October 24, 2016 REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

Famine is looming in Yemen, according to experst who say US-backed Saudi bombing intentionally targets food production, worsening hardships Yemenis face after 19 months of air strikes and a blockade by a pro-government Arab coalition.

Millions starving as Western-backed coalition bombs Yemen 28/10/2016 - by Clea Broadhurst Listen

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen was already quite severe, even before the war.

Today at least 14 million Yemenis, more than half of the country’s population, are going hungry.

The air strikes that have been going on for over a year and a half now, have made that situation worse.

In some parts of the impoverished country, the Saudi-led coalition is using a “scorched-earth strategy", a leading expert says.

"When one looks at the pattern of bombing, in the first three months the bombing was primarily toward military targets. But when surrender did not result from that, then the pattern began to change," Martha Mundy from LSE, who specialises in agriculture in Yemen, told RFI.

"There is systematic targeting of the bases of rural livehood and production. That is to say, fields sometimes, poultry farms, animals but especially rural markets, roads to rural markets, water installations. All of the agricultural extensions or food stores. In short, one sees a real scorched earth policy. The rural population, which is of course over half of the Yemeni population, the rural sector is the most affected."

So rural areas, fields, markets have been targeted but also potato chip or baby formula factories have also been hit.

Under international law, these kinds of facilities are not legitimate military targets.

Food, fuel imports hit

"Due to a blockade, of blockages on shipments in and out of Yemen and also indirectly due to the war, because of the fact that international companies are much less willing to deliver shipments to Yemen due to things as mundane as insurance premiums, we've seen a real, sharp dramatic decrease in import and export of food and fuel into Yemen," Adam Baron, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, says.

Yemen is heavily reliant on food imports - 90 percent or more for a lot of staple goods, Baron says. "When you have that added to the fact that fuel has also become quite rare, become quite expensive, that means there's less food coming in and, even more importantly, it's much more expensive to transport that food from areas across the country, that's why we're looking at a man-made famine in Yemen."

There is a clear humanitarian crisis. Baron goes as far as to say that an entire generation could be wiped out by hunger in Yemen.

"Fourteen million people need food assistance but seven million people, they cannot actually survive without food assistance right now. People who have reached severe hunger level, this is incurable and irreversible," Reem Nada, from the World Food Programme in Cairo, told RFI.

"What we need to be doing right now, is preventing people from reaching that severe state of hunger. The World Food Programme is providing supplements to people who are suffering from acute malnutrition, which is curable."

US, British weapons used

The coalition is backed by Western powers such as the US, the UK, France and Sweden.

"We and others have documented the use of US, British weapons by the coalition, in some of these unlawful attacks, including some of the most deadly. In order to increase pressure on the coalition, to make it very clear to them that this sort of behaviour is just not acceptable, states should stop selling these weapons to the Saudis, until they stop unlawful attacks and they're being investigated," Kristine Beckerle, a Human Rights Watch Yemen researcher, told RFI.

The unlawful attacks continue and no official investigations have been launched, she points out.

"It's almost unbelievable that we're now looking at more than a year and a half's worth of conflict where the international law violations continue to mount and that people really, particularly in the States, are not taking strong actions that are necessary to try and stop these violations on either the coalition side or on the houthi side."

LSE's Martha Mundy says that, not only is the coalition conducting these unlawful attacks but it has also managed to limit media coverage of what is happening in the country.

This means that many people in the West may not be aware of what their governments are supporting in Yemen.

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