A little girl photographed by NYT in Yemen has died, why didn’t world help her?

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 1.46.29 PM.pngBy SETH J. FRANTZMAN

On November 1 we learned the awful news that a little 7 year old Yemeni girl named Amal Hussein had died. The girl’s photo, taken by Tyler Hicks, had appeared in The New York Times in October. Declan Walsh tweeted. “Today I learned that the girl, Amal Hussain, has died.” Michael Slackman, also of the NYT, had tweeted earlier”I am sorry to report that Amal Hussain is dead. The 7-year-old, featured in a searing photograph by , died from malnutrition caused by the Saudi led war against Yemen. ‘My heart is broken,’ her mother said. Amal Hussain, 2011-2018.”

The tragedy is a repeat of a similar death that happened six months ago. In May CNN ran an article with footage by Gabriel Chaim from Yemen and a story by Nick Paton Walsh and Waffa Munayyer. It noted that “The impact on the youngest Yemenis is also acute, as images from Camp al Mahu — a haven near Lahj — devastatingly show. Here, tiny nine-year-old Mailiki Seif weighs just 2 kilograms, reduced to twigs of bone. Her mother, Mariam, says this is actually an improvement.” On May 31 Chaim posted that the girl had died. “Unfortunately I received the devastating news that the sweet Malika died by lack of help, assistance. We brought out days ago her story. Nothing has change. She gone.”

The story told how the tragedy of famine has unfolded in Yemen. The mother explained: “‘When we came here as displaced people, there was nothing wrong with her,’ she said, cradling her daughter’s fragile frame. ‘Then she started to have measles, diarrhea and vomiting. She got very skinny.’ Only emergency rations have kept the little girl alive.” The article noted that the family was from Mokha on the Red Sea but fled fighting and airstrikes. “Only the pro-government Yemeni forces benefit from the backing of an air force — usually Saudi but sometimes from the United Arab Emirates.”

Let’s remember this was back in May 2018. The article noted that the war had left 15 million in Yemen without access to clean water and that Saudi Arabia had been criticized for its role and the US support was already being questioned. Yet nothing was done. Chaim wrote passionately on Facebook about the little girl in a post:

A Displaced mother giving breast milk to her baby (1.4 y.o / 2.5 KG) inside a precarious refugee camp in Yemen show us how deep are the lies of the big organizations (NGOs)
I’m almost one month going around many camps…I didn’t see any organization helping there. No support.
They are starving!!!
All the NGOs around globe are busy making their own propaganda to show beautiful work that – in fact – don’t do in the field. The full report, exclusive for CNN shows a bit of the abyss surrounding the lives of civilians still living – precariously – in the midst of war. 

So today, on November 2 we once again see another senseless death. I interviewed Chaim in September about his experience. The article was published by MECRA. He discussed going to Lahj governorate to visit the IDP camps “So everyone that flees the war from Hodeidah or other areas they go to Lahj,” he said. “It’s close to Aden but a kind of neutral zone and a lot of NGOs send supplies there.” But Chaim felt that the NGOs weren’t doing enough. He told me:

“All the NGOs are there, like MSF and the UN. All of them. But when you go to the refugee camps, a lot of them are improvised. This is another problem. You don’t have a huge refugee camp supported by the UN but rather many small camps. When you go to those camps and you ask the displaced people ‘so did an NGO come,’, they will say ‘yeah sometimes they come but they don’t have food for everyone and they supply just half and then they never come back anymore.’ This is another problem there. A lot of NGOs get money but actually don’t help people. I was in many camps and in all of them the children are dying from sickness and diseases.”

Saving the children who have fled to Lahj Governorate is possible. NGOs and the UN can get there. Journalists can get there. it is possible to help. In fact this tragedy has been unfolding for years and there has been shockingly little attention. The UNHCR report from February 2017 notes the following. There were 2 million IDPs, 18 million people in need, and there were 279,000 refugees, including many from Somalia. Even with war in Yemen it is often forgotten that the situation is so bad in the horn of Africa that many people voyage to Yemen, some hoping to reach Saudi Arabia. At the time around 2,000 were coming a month. According to UNHCR “Distribution of core relief items continued across Yemen for IDPs through UNHCR implementing partners, reaching 48,367 individuals (over 7,760 families) since the start of the year {February 2017].”

The death of Amal and Malika were preventable. We knew what was happening. The wealthiest countries knew. It’s possible to get food and other items to the IDP camps. So why isn’t it happening. Why are people dying? It’s not as simple as to claim it is due to the war. There is a war going on but in the Houthi-held areas, as far as we know, there is not the same famine as among the IDPs. So that means the people in need can be reached. At the same time, despite the war, refugees are still trying to get in to Yemen, fleeing Somalia, or even leaving Ethiopia to be smuggled through Yemen for work elsewhere. That paints a complex picture of what is happening. The areas most accessible to the international community are precisely those areas that are not far from Aden where people are dying.

If people area serious and if they care about the photo, they should urge their government and NGOs to do more.

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