UN warns of catastrophic Yemen death toll

November 24, 2021 - 18:12

TEHRAN - The United Nations has warned that should the war on Yemen continue until the end of 2021, the death toll from the conflict will reach 377,000 lives with 154,000 as a result of direct combat and violence and 223,000 – or nearly 60 per cent – indirectly caused by the conflict. The report says of the total deaths, 259,000 – nearly 70 per cent of total conflict-attributable deaths – are children younger than five years old.

And then, the UN warns if the conflict continues through 2030, it projects the total death toll from the war only will reach a staggering 1.3 million lives lost, more than 70 percent of which will be from indirect deaths and 80 percent of these deaths will be children under the age of five. Yemeni children that have yet to understand anything from this life and have yet to see anything from this life apart from bombs falling down and wake up to the sounds of explosions. 

The research firstly underlines how the all out blockade on the country is killing more people than those being killed by violence such as airstrikes. Secondly it suggests how difficult the process has been to obtain the real information regarding casualties for example. 

The UN acknowledges “because many of our data inputs come from a conflict zone, those are also subject to uncertainty as data collection can be particularly difficult in a conflict context.”

In fact, soon after the war, the UN stopped updating its death toll because it was difficult for the world body to get an accurate picture of what was happening on the ground. The airstrikes struck UN run health facilities and other services that forced the UN to order many of its personnel out of the country. Other humanitarian and medical agencies such as Doctors Without Borders were also forced to leave because their facilities were repeatedly hit by airstrikes and they too lost members of staff. 

Therefore, it is safe to say that the figure of 154,000 killed due to direct combat and violence, provided by the study is not entirely credible and could be a modest number of the real death toll. For instance, in 2018, three years after the war started, the UN death toll remained static at around 10,000, despite the war starting in March 2015. This is while other monitoring groups such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project conducted research that found “56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018.” That was its initial results. At the time, the independent group which studies armed conflicts estimated up to 80,000 victims (within the same time frame) when it concluded the research. The absence of real figures for the death toll in Yemen made it easier for western powers to shrug off accusations they are complicit in a human disaster; despite making hundreds of billions of dollars in profit from the war through arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

Yemeni activists say they have lost hope with the United Nations and its reports or statements.

However, the 68-page report (involving the United Nations, the UN Development Program (UNDP), and some Member States of the United Nations), titled assessing the impact of the war in Yemen - pathways for recovery, makes an interesting read and does reveal the extent of the damage the war is having on Yemen. 

According to the study, It has led to urgent, widespread humanitarian and development crises and resulted in significant damage to the economy, physical infrastructure, service provision, health, and education systems, as well as the social fabric of the country. It has also caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. While many of these are the result of direct violence, others are due to the war’s indirect effects, including a lack of food and degraded living conditions.

It compares the current reality in Yemen to a scenario where no war ever erupted. The deaths from the war are overwhelmingly made up of young children who are especially vulnerable to under and malnutrition. 

The most disturbing line in the report; that in 2021 “a Yemeni child under the age of five dies every nine minutes because of the conflict”; another stark reminder of the effect this war is having on children and the silence of the international community to address and deal with this issue speaks volumes. Profit ahead of a child dying every nine minutes from preventable causes will split history in two factions over this conflict. Those who waged, backed and supported a side purely for profit and those who backed and supported a side to end the conflict and called for peace talks between all “Yemeni” parties to end the war. According to the study, if the war continues through 2030, a child will die every five minutes. In 2019, a similar assessment found a child dying every 12 minutes, so it’s a significant increase since then. 

When comparing Yemen’s current situation to a scenario without war, the reports estimated the country has lost a cumulative US$126 billion in potential gross domestic product (GDP) since 2015. In addition, 15.6 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty and 8.6 million more people into undernutrition. 22.2 million more people may potentially be forced into poverty and 9.2 million more people may also experience malnutrition. 

The study says that since the Cold War era, the war on Yemen has been among the most destructive that have ever occurred. Another shocking point the reports reveals is that the indirect effects have been so immense, it has setback human development by more than two decades.

Frequently referred to as the greatest humanitarian disaster in the world, the study finds that the effects of war extend well beyond the loss of human life by reducing economic activity, pushing people into poverty, and increasing malnutrition. While the war has proven to be both lasting and devastating, the UN says these costs should encourage serious reflection on the future path of the country and motivate all sides towards a sustained and inclusive political settlement.

Yemeni activists say they have lost hope with the United Nations and its reports or statements. The UN backed 2018 Stockholm agreement was supposed to end the fighting in the key strategic port city of Hodeidah where 90 percent of vital lifesaving commodities enter the country. Since that agreement, instead of peace, Yemeni officials say Hodeidah has witnessed a sharp rise in fighting. Only recently have Saudi backed militants fled the city (around last month) and headed to Ma’rib did the UN called for a revival of the stalled peace talks, which raised eyebrows and question marks in Sana’a.

The UN backed report makes assumptions that the war ends for all recovery scenarios, but refrains from making any “assessment or assumption” regarding how this war can end. The report “does not aim to provide guidance for achieving and sustaining peace as it is beyond our scope.” 

It is for reasons like this that Yemeni officials and activists based in Yemen say they have given up on the world body coming to their rescue and they must resist the aggression with self reliance. 

The reality is many assumptions can be made on how to end this man made crisis and how to pressure some parties to sit at the table and accept there is no way forward in fighting anymore, this is quite a simple assumption. In fact, it’s more than that; It’s a solution. The only path forward to end this crisis of untold magnitudes must be through peace talks between all the parties involved. This of course, is where the United Nations can play a much more active practical role in ending the now seven year war, before many more are killed or starve to death.


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