Her name is Amal, which means “hope,” in Arabic. She was the child her mother said was always smiling.
Amal was 7 years old when she starved to death in late October in a filthy, tattered refugee camp in North Yemen. By the time she died, Amal had shrunk to little more than matchstick limbs, and sunken, haunted eyes. Her shriveled legs fit into the palm of an adult’s hand. She had gone silent, too weak to even speak.
While Americans duked it out in the primaries, including an estimated $60 million thrown into Montana’s own senatorial race, a once-vibrant little girl slowly starved to death in a refugee tent. Amal had a home once, but it was lost to her three years ago because of the Saudi-United Arab Emirates military coalition’s unrelenting bombing strikes in the mountains where her family had lived, over 18,000 to date.
Yemen is the proxy to a conflict between the coalition and Iran, and because the country’s Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, it’s been steadily and indiscriminately bombed since 2015. The U.S. supports these campaigns by providing arms, intelligence and aerial refueling to the coalition.
Amal’s family and countless others fled to avoid being blown up, but found no refuge from the starvation and disease that followed them. A week before she died, Amal had been admitted to a makeshift UNICEF hospital where the nurses tried to give her milk, which only wracked her with painful vomiting and diarrhea. It was too little, too late. The hospital discharged her to make room for another patient, and the doctor told her mother to take her to the Doctors Without Borders hospital, 15 miles away. Her mother had no money and no transportation, so she carried her little girl back to their pitiful shelter, where Amal died three days later.
The UN is calling Yemen the largest and most horrific humanitarian crisis ever. How is this relevant, you might ask? Well, from a human perspective, it is relevant that children are starving to death on this earth in 2018. And it should be abhorrently unacceptable. Recall the Ethiopian famine crisis in 1985 that launched the “We are the World” call to action. I was incredulous that kids like me had withered to hollow-eyed, spindly corpses, starving to death on television.
Now it is over 30 years later, and children are still starving. The UN has warned that up to 14 million people in Yemen are perilously on the brink of famine and disease-related death. Consider the technology available today: robotic limbs, driverless cars and high-volume GMO food production are a few examples. But we are failing to meet these children’s most basic needs, and in desperation, many are subsisting on a sour paste made of leaves.
Amal was a real little girl who suffered terribly before dying. The bipartisan decisions of the Obama and Trump administrations to support the Saudi-UAE coalition’s bombing campaigns have displaced millions of innocent civilians, and should be reconsidered. It’s too late to save Amal from the death she suffered at the hands of “leaders” more hell-bent on geopolitical posturing than concerning themselves with children. But we can voice our disagreement with the U.S. involvement and responsibility in Yemen’s suffering. We can use our resources to provide aid. Charity Navigator is a place to start.
The little girl named for hope was the thoughtless casualty of a hopeless situation, and that is a tragic shame. But we are not powerless to help prevent the agonizing fate she suffered from happening to hundreds of thousands of other children. Her name is Amal.