Small, no less tragic, crises

In last week’s blog, which focused on the refugee crisis in Europe and how to help, we talked about how a major humanitarian crisis can often get all the attention, leaving other, smaller — but often not less tragic — crises forgotten.

Exhibit A: Yemen.

I’ll b the first to admit I had forgotten there was even a conflict in Yemen. In fact, it’s been raging since March, when a Saudi-led coalition of Arab forces began attacking Shiite rebels there.

It was about the last place that needed the additional chaos of war: It is the poorest country in the Middle East where more than half the population is in poverty, and the country has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Oxfam International has been working in Yemen to improve health care and provide basic needs for 30 years, as political unrest and violence displaced people and wrecked the country’s infrastructure.

It’s hard to imagine how things could get worse, but war has a way of making the unimaginable into reality.

The United Nations says that since March, the 16 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased to 21 million — 80 percent of the population. Oxfam says that number has since increased to 84 percent of Yemenis.

Making everything even more difficult is the coalition’s blockade of coalition-controlled areas, bombed airports, and rebels’ blockade of territory they control. This is absolutely critical, because Yemen imports 90 percent of its food and fuel. A Doctors Without Borders official said in July the blockade of food and medicine is killing as many people as the bombing and shelling.

And last week, the coalition attacks intensified, making aid even more difficult. Oxfam hosted its Yemen team leader, Tariq Riebl, on its Twitter feed Friday, answering questions about the conflict and Oxfam’s mission. Riebl has witnessed more than 1,000 airstrikes in the last three months.

Riebl tweeted that  the gains made in women’s equality have been set back by the conflict, and mothers are having to explain to their children the sound of airstrikes; also many non-military and civilian targets have been hit, likely in violation of international law, including schools, hospitals and mosques.

Oxfam also produced an interactive guide to what’s happening in Yemen, which you can see here.

A bit of good news

War is awful enough. But when children are recruited (forced) to become soldiers, it adds a horrifyingly perverse twist to the situation.

UNICEF estimates up to 5,000 children have been “exploited as fighters, porters or cooks for armed groups in Somalia.” But Friday the agency reported that nearly 400 have been released from service and reintegrated into educational programs.

Only 4,600 to go.

Cheers to this couple

And finally, a Turkish couple decided that a lavish celebration for their wedding just wouldn’t be right with thousands of refugees on their doorstep.

So instead of a throwing the elaborate event Turkish weddings are known for, they took the money they would have spent and used it to feed refugees.

You can see video of the newlyweds — in their wedding clothes — serving the food.

Talk about a relationship built on love.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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