Yemen is in the midst of a humanitarian disaster and little is being done to heed the warnings. Already the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen has child malnutrition rates that rival famine-ravaged Somalia.
Maria Calivis, regional director of UNICEF says, “This year alone, half a million children in Yemen are likely to die from malnutrition or to suffer lifelong physical and cognitive consequences resulting from malnutrition if we don’t take action. Malnutrition is preventable. And, therefore, inaction is unconscionable.”
This level of suffering, on top of political instability, has the potential to plunge the country into complete chaos, a chilling prospect considering al Qaeda’s presence there.
Yemen remains key in the struggle to defeat al Qaeda and extremism, much the same as Korea, Greece, Germany and others were in the struggle to win the Cold War and push back communism. In Korea and Germany, millions of children were given meals in their schools as part of our policy of backing those nations. In fact, General Lucius Clay thought school meals for German kids was about the most important act we did in reconstruction.
During the Cold War, the U.S. helped initiatives to boost agricultural production and build roads in South Korea. Today in Yemen, similar projects are much needed to strengthen the country, but they do not have enough funding to go forward.
In the case of Greece, the U.S. supplied aid, but not just military. Special focus was given hunger relief, both during World War II and in the reconstruction. Greece was plundered during World War II by the Germans. The retreat of the Nazis was not the end, as civil war broke out. Communist forces threatened to take over.
With this chaos and violence came suffering for the people. Former president Herbert Hoover, who organized aid for Greece, said Greece’s people “are sick and hungry.” Enter the United Nations, UNICEF, CARE, Greek relief committees and the Marshall Plan. All of these provided humanitarian aid to help Greece through a period of severe hunger and conflict.
A 1947 U.S. report warned that if the flow of relief supplies to Greece stopped, “chaos would result.” Humanitarian aid fortunately continued.
The newly created UNICEF, for instance, provided milk to Greek schoolchildren as part of an effort to build a nationwide school feeding program. UNICEF was founded on the belief that rehabilitation of children needed to be an international priority.
Today, UNICEF is trying to provide plumpy’nut, a special peanut paste to save Yemeni children from potentially deadly malnutrition. However, low funding prevents them from reaching the vast majority of mouths.
Low funding has forced the UN World Food Programme to scale back food programs for children as well as other hunger relief efforts. In the summer of 2010, the White House admitted that relief efforts in Yemen were “woefully underfunded.” The U.S. has not been able to rally enough international efforts to meet this growing crisis, despite the strategic significance of keeping Yemen afloat.
Congress, meanwhile, is threatening to reduce funding for the Food for Peace program. This would greatly harm U.S. foreign policy as hunger can easily lead to chaos.
Counterterrorism advisor John Brennan says, “As we have seen from Afghanistan in the 1990s to Yemen, Somalia and the tribal areas of Pakistan today, al Qaeda and its affiliates often thrive where there is disorder or where central governments lack the ability to effectively govern their own territory.”
Disorder has no better ally than hunger. How can we expect Yemen to build a peaceful, stable future when the population suffers from dangerous malnutrition that crushes mind and body? For any country to flourish, the most important ally in their quest for peace is food.
Originally published at History News Network