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10,000 Yemeni children have died of preventable diseases since the Saudi war began

A malnourished Yemeni boy.
(Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is actively participating in a brutal war in Yemen, providing valuable jet refueling capabilities and intelligence to the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthi rebel group that began in March of last year.

Because of the US’s fairly limited direct combat role, the war has gotten relatively little attention in the American press. It deserves to get more: The Saudis have indiscriminately bombed civilian targets from the air, with groups like Human Rights Watch calling for war crimes investigations.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Here’s one number, announced in a Monday briefing by United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien that puts things in perspective: 10,000 children under 5 years old have died of preventable diseases since the war began in March.

Think about that. Ten thousand children younger than 5 dying of not just disease but preventable disease. Things that should and potentially could be cured, were Yemen not in the midst of a punishing war.

There are two main reasons for this disaster. First, O’Brien explains, the fighting has destroyed a significant part of Yemen’s already fragile health care system. The Saudis, who have seemingly intentionally targeted hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, bear a major portion of the blame.

Second, siege has become the norm in much of the country, whose prewar population of more than 24 million was larger than Syria’s.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, depended heavily on imports for basic supplies — 90 percent of its food came from outside its borders. Now the Saudis have imposed a blockade around Yemen that cut off supplies into Houthi-held territory. The Houthis have also laid siege to cities in the country’s south, held by the internationally recognized government, cutting off the flow of supplies to civilians there.

The result is that Yemenis lack basic medical supplies, and many are on the brink of starvation. Malnutrition and lack of medical supplies make the deaths of children especially likely.

The bottom line, then, is that the conflict in Yemen is causing mass human suffering. The United States, by backing one of the belligerents, is helping to keep the fighting going — and thus bears some of the blame.

It’s too bad Americans aren’t talking about it.