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What conflict-torn Yemen needs to keep more children from dying

Editor's note: Some of the images in this segment are graphic.

In Yemen, the U.N. has called for a cease-fire in the conflict between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. No official death toll exists, but Save the Children says 85,000 children have died since the war began from a combination of violence, hunger and disease. Nick Schifrin talks to Greg Ramm, the charity’s vice president for humanitarian response, about what can be done.

Read the Full Transcript

  • John Yang:

    Today in Yemen, the U.N. special representative called for a cease-fire in the critical port of Hodeidah.

    For three-and-a-half years, a Saudi-led coalition, with U.S. support, has waged war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The U.N. says 10,000 people have been killed, but admits it stopped counting years ago because a reliable count simply isn't possible.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, the charity Save the Children has released a shocking, new number: 85,000 children killed.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The "NewsHour" has reported often from Yemen and highlighted the plight of young Yemeni children, so many of whom are isolated, besieged and starving. And a warning: The images we are going to show you during this segment are hard to watch.

    But this is the reality of this war.

    And to talk about the astonishing, the horrifying number of children killed, I turn to Greg Ramm, the vice president of Save the Children's humanitarian response.

    This number that you put out is not based on death certificates. It's based on an analysis. How did you get to 85,000?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Save the Children has worked for years and years on humanitarian crises around the world. We know what happens when children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and it's left untreated.

    Their bodies waste away. Their organs fail. They either starve to death or, when disease strikes them, diarrhea, other disease, their bodies can't resist because their immune systems have collapsed. So, we know the numbers. The calculus is very clear.

    If you have a certain number of children with severe, acute malnutrition that's left untreated, a certain percentage will die. And it's based on those calculations and the understanding of the crisis in Yemen that has led us to this conclusion.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Did any of the conditions that lead to those medical crises exist before the war began?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Sure.

    So, Yemen has always suffered from poverty, but the health clinics functioned. The economy functioned. Even where there's poverty, people, usually parents, find a way to scrape enough food together to keep their children alive. And so you can suffer from chronic malnutrition, but when the conflict comes, when the economy collapses, when humanitarian assistance can't get through, then you wind up with children having severe, acute malnutrition. And the consequences are dire.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You just mentioned humanitarian assistance not getting through.

    And in your latest report, you say that because of the fighting, food that used to take one week to arrive now takes three weeks to arrive.

    Does that mean that conditions will continue to just get worse?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Circumstances are certainly getting worse.

    The port of Hodeidah is — and the city of Hodeidah is being bombed. Other parts of the country are in conflict from the civil war. It makes getting humanitarian assistance through very, very difficult.

    Where assistance gets through, more is needed. But with so many millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance, so much more needs to be done, both efforts to stop the conflict itself, so that — and also to allow unfettered access to humanitarian assistance to everybody in need.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You just mentioned Hodeidah, the port where the majority of assistance arrives into Yemen.

    In recent days, the U.S., the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthi rebels have all talked about a cease-fire in Hodeidah. But you're actually seeing more violence in Hodeidah in recent days?

  • Greg Ramm:

    So, in recent days, there has been an uptick in fighting.

    Very often, that can happen just on the eve of a cease-fire. So we continue to hold out hope for a cease-fire. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to put down their arms and to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

    Without a cease-fire, it is very, very difficult to get the assistance that children so desperately need.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You just mentioned a cease-fire. A cease-fire is exactly what the U.S. is calling for right now. How important is it right now to get a political solution to this war?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Well, in any conflict, that is the solution. Military victory rarely comes in a situation like this.

    This has been a protracted civil war. I can't imagine any other solution, other than a political solution. But, if the conflict continues, and it continues in this protracted state year after year, we will continue to see tens of thousands of children die.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, in that sense, is further famine preventable?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Famine is preventable. It is preventable even in conflict, if all the parties allow humanitarian assistance to get through.

    Children are not parties to the conflict. Children do not need to suffer. So, even in times of war, if international humanitarian law is respected, if the parties to the conflict allow that assistance to get through, famine can be prevented.

    If not, if food is used as a weapon of war, then all bets are off, and children will die.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Here in the U.S., there's a lot of blame on the Houthi rebels who are backed by Iran.

    But, at the same time, are you also seeing humanitarian assistance being blocked by all sides?

  • Greg Ramm:

    There is challenges on it throughout Yemen.

    Part of that is simply due to the conflict. But part of that also is due to administrative complications, just the process of moving food or other assistance or keeping health care — health clinics open and running. It is complicated throughout Yemen.

    And we would call on all parties to facilitate humanitarian assistance, so that those in need can get it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This challenge is so large, and these images so horrifying.

    What would you say to one of our viewers who wants to help, but doesn't know how?

  • Greg Ramm:

    Well, the two things that are most important — one is that there are — Save the Children and other agencies are on the ground. We are providing health care. We are helping keep clinics open. We are providing food. We are working with families and communities to protect children from harm.

    We are working to keep schools open where we can, so that children continue to learn. More help is needed. And Save the Children and other agencies would welcome that support.

    The second is that the world must call on the warring parties, pressure must be put, so that a cease-fire can take place, and so that peace can be negotiated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Greg Ramm of Save the Children, thank you very much.

  • Greg Ramm:

    Thank you for your time.

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