Yemen’s children starve as war drags on

In this Dec. 12 photo provided by UNICEF, 5-year-old Mohannad Ali lies on a hospital bed in Abs, Yemen. As the first light of dawn trickles in through the hospital window, 19-year-old Mohammed Ali learns that his 2-year-old cousin has died of hunger, but he has to remain strong for his little brother Mohannad, who could be next. (Hakim/UNICEF via AP)

ABS, Yemen — As the first light of dawn trickles in through the hospital window, 19-year-old Mohammed Ali learns that his 2-year-old cousin has died of hunger. But he has to remain strong for his little brother Mohannad, who could be next.

He holds his brother’s hand as the 5-year-old struggles to breathe, his skin stretched tight over tiny ribs. “I have already lost a cousin to malnutrition today, I can’t lose my little brother,” he says.

They are among countless Yemenis who are struggling to feed themselves amid a grinding civil war that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. The family lives in a mud hut in northern Yemen, territory controlled by Shiite Houthi rebels, who are at war with government forces and a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition.

The coalition has been waging a fierce air campaign against the rebels since March 2015, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge them from the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. A coalition blockade aimed at preventing the Houthis from re-arming has contributed to a 60-percent spike in food prices, according to an estimate used by international aid groups.

During the best of times, many Yemenis struggled to make ends meet. Now they can barely feed themselves.

Mohammed’s father works seasonal farming jobs that pay only a few dollars a day. Mohammed dropped out of school after the war began and scrapes by on occasional construction and farming work. Before the war, they could afford to eat beef or chicken once a week, but now they are lucky to have some fish with lunch.