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A baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF-supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada, Yemen
UNICEF/Ma’ad Al-Zekri
Food & Hunger

Starvation Is Being Used as a 'Weapon of War' — and Over 500,000 More Children Could Die


Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN's Global Goals call for an end to hunger, as well as an end to violence. No child should be going hungry in 2018, and it's particularly horrific that the hunger experienced by children in conflict zones all over the world is intentionally being inflicted. You can join us in support of these children by taking action for the Global Goals here

Hunger is back on the rise for the first time in two decades. And the primary cause for the food shortages is conflict. 

Conflict affects food stability, disrupts supply chains, and forces people away from their land and livestock. But hunger is also being used as a deliberate weapon in areas impacted by conflict.

Save the Children has now warned that more than half a million children in the world’s conflict zones could die before the end of 2018, as a result of extreme hunger.

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“Hunger is not inevitable,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. “Time after time we are seeing starvation used as a weapon of war when deliveries of food are obstructed by the warring parties in places like Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan.” 

“We must stop this dangerous trend,” Miles urged. “All warring parties must abide by their obligations under international law to allow humanitarian access. We also need to see an increase in funding from the international community to save more children’s lives.” 

“In 2018, no child should be dying from hunger,” she said. “But the number of hungry people on our planet has started to rise again. This is shameful.”

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Save the Children released new research on Tuesday, warning that 4.5 million children under five years old will need treatment for life-threatening hunger this year, in the world’s most dangerous conflict zones. That’s an increase of 20% compared to two years ago. 

But two-thirds of these children will miss out on the vital treatment they need, it said — and 590,000 children are expected to die by the end of 2018 as a result.

The 10 most dangerous conflicts for children have previously been identified by Save, they are: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The ranking is based on conflict intensity, the number of children living near to conflict, and “grave violations” against children recorded by the UN in 2016. 

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“The broad story is we’ve seen a drastic increase in the number of children at risk of death as a result of hunger-related problems,” said Kevin Watkins, the CEO of Save the Children UK. “Using starvation as a weapon of war has become the new normal, with devastating consequences for children.”

“From Yemen to South Sudan, the failure to protect children from hunger is putting children at risk,” he added. 

Save the Children’s warning comes as humanitarian agencies are struggling with “chronic” funding shortfalls, while warring parties increasingly block vital supplies from reaching children. 

One example is the closure of ports in Yemen in 2017, preventing vital humanitarian aid reaching the conflict-hit population and prompting international outcry. 

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The Saudi-led coalition closed down all land, sea, and air borders in November 2017, after rebel militias reportedly targeted a Saudi city with missiles. 

Recent fighting in the port city of Hodeidah in Yemen has, however, sparked fresh concerns about food, clean water, and medical supplies reaching people — in what the UN has described as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. 

Hodeidah is a vital gateway into Yemen, with up to 80% of the country’s imports of food, medicines, and aid shipments going through the Red Sea city.