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Opinion

Crisis in Yemen raises questions over American spending habits

Lauren A. Simenson

November 1, 2017

Children in bright Halloween costumes with their chubby hands clenched around buckets of crinkly-packaged candy filled the feeds of my various social media accounts this past week.

In sharp contrast and in increasing amounts since this summer, pictures and videos of emaciated children with their eyes bulging out of gaunt faces have also been filling my social media feeds. My stomach has been turning over and clenching in guilty knots, not just because of all of the festive candy I’ve recently been consuming but also because of the sharp dichotomy of realizing that I have so much while others have nothing.

It is, or should be, no news that children and adults in Syria – to name one place where starvation is happening – have been facing extreme food shortages for years now because of the war they are embroiled in. Over the summer, images of listless and grey-faced Yemenis children began to show up in videos on my Facebook.

In an Aljazeera report from March of this year, “more than 20 million people in four countries [are] at risk of starvation and famine.” This famine is the largest in the United Nation’s 72-year history. In a more recent article from October of this year, Aljazeera calls the seven million starving Yemenis the “war the world forgot” as the conflicts in Syria have captured the most global interest.

The famine in Yemen is called a “humanitarian disaster” in this same October article, and is due to the fact that Yemenis are currently in the middle of a now three-year civil war and are almost totally dependent on food imports. The civil war has effectively blocked any imports from coming in. The intense fighting in the country and lack of necessary shipping ports has stopped any distribution of life-saving nutrition. Aljazeera notes that 17 million do not have access to food and 6.8 million are in famine.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, children are going from house to house collecting candy.

The National Retail Federation reported that for Halloween this year, Americans will spend $9.1 billion on the holiday with $2.7 billion of that total just going towards candy. It is a new record high for the United States.

According to Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian chief, a March 2017 Aljazeera report said that $4.4 billion was needed by July for humanitarian food aid to stop starvation and famine. Of the $4.4 billion, $2.1 billion of that went solely to Yemen.

In a security council meeting at the United Nation’s building in New York on Oct. 10, Director of the Coordination and Response Division in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs said that the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan was at 55 percent, or $1.3 billion, but that the ultimate goal of $2.1 billion had not yet been reached. His goal is to get the rest of the money and reach the 12 million Yemenis who need life-saving aid by the end of this year.

It is hard for me to comprehend 12 million starving people, let alone $2.1 billion dollars. Considering that it is now November, I cannot help but not be optimistic about the chances for getting all of the money necessary to complete this vital mission.

It is troubling to me that Americans spent four times the amount of money on a holiday than what is needed to provide life-saving resources to people living in just one famine-stricken place in the world.

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.

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