(CN) – As Yemen’s warring sides held a second day of U.N.-brokered peace talks in Sweden, the refugee agency for the international body reported Friday that 123 civilians are killed or injured every week in the conflict.
New data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the fighting killed nearly 1,500 civilians, nearly a third of whom were women and children, during a three-month stretch this fall. Overall, 16,000 civilians have been killed and millions more displaced.
Shedding light on another layer of the tragedy, a separate report released Saturday by U.N. food and humanitarian agencies estimates that 20 million Yemenis are food insecure and nearly 15.9 million wake up hungry.
Speaking broadly, the war pits internationally recognized Yemeni government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, against the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.
“I welcome the opening of peace talks on the conflict in Yemen in Stockholm,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted Thursday. “I urge all those present at the talks to do everything in their power to end the war and the suffering. Yemenis can’t wait.”
War-torn Yemen, on Saudi Arabia’s southern border, has been wracked by years of civil war, a conflict that arose in part from the 2011 Arab Spring. It is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world: before the war, according to the U.N. food report, 80 percent of Yemenis lived below the poverty line.
“In a war waged by adults, it is the country’s children who suffer first and suffer most,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement on the food report, prepared by by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and other humanitarian groups.
“Thousands of Yemeni children could die from severe malnutrition if conditions, including conflict and economic crisis, do not improve soon,” Fore continued.
“Warring parties must choose whether to end the fighting, and save lives, or fight on, and cause more children to die.”
International media focus on Yemen has increased recently in the wake of the Oct. 2 killing in Saudi Arabia of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident.
The rebel-held port city of Hodeidah, on the Red Sea, has already been the site of some vicious fighting. Yemen gets 70 percent of its food, fuel and medicine through Hodeidah; a battle to seize it would have devastating effects for civilians.
The food report warns that aid will not be enough to save Yemenis from greater levels of starvation — the underlying crises need resolution as well.
“The Humanitarian Food Assistance alone will not prevent further deterioration if not accompanied by actions addressing the key drivers of food insecurity. It is imperative that there is a halt to the violence, the full engagement into the peace talks, the re-establishment of humanitarian and commercial imports flows into all ports and onwards to their final destinations,” the report states.
In addition to the food insecurity, the world’s largest cholera outbreak has infected a suspected 1.2 million people in Yemen since 2017, Reuters reported.
Starting with the Obama administration, the U.S. has led more than 250 drone strikes against targets in Yemen it has tied to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Those strikes also caused at least 100 civilian casualties and more than 1,300 deaths overall, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation. It’s not clear whether these deaths were included in UNHCR’s figures.
Widespread outrage at Khashoggi’s death offers some insight as to the sudden action on a war that has dragged on for years.
Though the U.S. backing of Saudi Arabia in Yemen has spanned two presidential administrations, Congress is expected to vote next week to end that support, pointing to evidence that Khashoggi’s murder was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine told NPR Khashoggi’s death “was the spark that that has really made the Senate stand up and just say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
With his writing, Khashoggi himself tried to bring attention to the crisis in Yemen.
In a column from Sept. 11, 2018, just weeks before his death, Khashoggi called on Prince bin Salman for an end to the war.
“The longer this cruel war lasts in Yemen, the more permanent the damage will be,” he wrote. “The people of Yemen will be busy fighting poverty, cholera and water scarcity and rebuilding their country. The crown prince must bring an end to the violence and restore the dignity of the birthplace of Islam.”