On October 26, the New York Times published a story featuring a photo of 7-year-old Amal Hussain that captured the attention and sympathy of readers. The Yemeni girl was skin and bones as she lay on a hospital bed dying from starvation as a result of a war in her country that’s being led by Saudi Arabia. Thousands live on the brink of starvation not because food is scarce but because its cost is far beyond their means. Thursday, Amal Hussain died at a refugee camp located just four miles from a hospital.
When journalists visited Amal this week, they found nurses feeding her milk every couple of hours, but it wasn’t helping as she suffered from chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Her mother was also ill, suffering from dengue fever, which is transmitted through the mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water in the camp where her family lives. They had been living as refugees for three years, starting when airstrikes forced them from their home. Their home province of Saada has been the target of at least 18,000 Saudi-led airstrikes since 2015. It is also the homeland of Houthi rebels.
The Houston Chronicle described the reaction of readers of that New York Times article as one of “heartbreak.” People became interested in her welfare and wanted to know how they could provide financial assistance that would get her the food and medical care she desperately needed. Unfortunately, Amal’s death is not uncommon. Parents bury their children every day in Yemen because they can’t afford to feed them. There are an estimated 1.8 million children in Yemen suffering from severe malnutrition. Amal’s mother Mariam Ali fears for the lives of her other children.
“My heart is broken. Amal was always smiling. Now I’m worried for my other children.”
The recent murder of Saudi Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has re-directed the world’s attention back to Yemen and has world leaders re-examining their relationships with Saudi Arabia. The role and level of knowledge of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the journalist’s death is under question, but his involvement in the economic crisis in Yemen is clear. Bin Salman has led the Saudi coalition and its Yemeni allies in imposing economic sanctions intended to hurt Houthi rebels in northern Yemen that have devastated the economy and forced Yemenis into desperate, life-threatening conditions. Among the economic sanctions that have wrought devastation are blockades, restrictions on products entering Yemen, and a practice of withholding the salaries of about a million civil servants. The UN has warned that the most recent estimate of eight million Yemenis who rely on emergency aid could soon rise to 14 million if something doesn’t change. That’s roughly half of Yemen’s total population.
Both the U.S. and Britain have called for a ceasefire in Yemen, with American Defense Secretary Jim Mattis insisting that it happen within 30 days, saying Tuesday, “We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can’t say we are going to do it some time in the future.”
The hospital where Amal Hussain was receiving treatment was forced to discharge her last week to make room for more children who were also suffering from severe malnutrition. Dr. Mekkia Mahdi, who was treating Amal, said, “This was a displaced child who suffered from disease and displacement. We have many more cases like her.” Home for Amal was a hut in a refugee camp that had been made of straw and plastic sheeting. Dr. Mahdi urged her mother to take her to the Doctors Without Borders hospital, but she didn’t have the money to transport her the 15 miles between her home and the facility. Amal died within three days of arriving home.