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Yemen’s war must end to address starvation, UN food aid chief says

In Yemen, 10,000 are estimated to have been killed in the war that's been raging for three and a half years. But millions are suffering from an acute hunger crisis and the United Nations warns that Yemen is on the brink of famine. David Beasley of the World Food Programme joins Nick Schifrin to describe the catastrophe and his appeals for a cease-fire.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, Saudi Arabia's chief prosecutor accused 11 people in the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi. And the U.S. quickly followed suit with its own sanctions.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, there are ongoing questions about the Saudi response and about Saudi foreign policy in the region.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At the top of the list of Saudis sanctioned by the U.S. government is Saud al-Qahtani, one of the chief advisers to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    Critics of MBS, as he's known, call Qahtani a fall guy for the crown prince's decisions to aggressively target his opponents. When it comes to foreign policy, MBS has been most aggressive over Saudi Arabia's southern border by waging war in Yemen.

    Over the last three-and-a-half years, the U.N. estimates 10,000 have been killed, and they stopped counting years ago.

    Today, the Saudi-led coalition halted its offensive against the key city and port of Hodeidah. But millions are suffering from an acute hunger crisis. And the U.N. warns Yemen is on the brink of famine.

    One of the people leading the response is David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program. And he joins me now from the U.N.

    David Beasley, thanks so much for being on the "NewsHour."

    Let me start with the day's news, this halt in fighting in Hodeidah. Some 70 percent of imports in Yemen go through Hodeidah. Could this improve, possibly, the humanitarian situation?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, there's no doubt that will have a positive impact.

    But I will tell you, I was there just the day before yesterday in the Hodeidah port area. And it's like a ghost town in parts of. It is a militarized zone. We were distributing food. People were literally coming to us, coming out of their homes as quickly as they could to our distribution points, where we would give them enough food for one month, so they don't have to be in the streets, because it is a combat, militarized zones.

    In fact, you can't believe how many people came up to me begging me to stay, believing that, as long as I was there long, as our team was there, there would be no military combat. In fact, military combat started one hour after we left.

    So, cease-fire will give us tremendous opportunity to address the humanitarian catastrophe that we're facing right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It is a catastrophe. And let's personalize this a little bit.

    You talked about the conditions that you saw, and there's someone you met, 8-month-old Mohammed Hashem.

  • David Beasley:

    Well, I was in the hospital, seeing the children literally dying right before my very eyes. Little Mohammed, who was literally just months old, just a situation with diarrhea, lack of — lack of food, lack of good water, and it was heartbreaking.

    And it wasn't just Mohammed .I can talk to you about Warta and Malik. And I talked to these little girls. I remember one little child, his little, teeny feet were sticking out the blanket. And I tickled the little feet thinking I would get a little smile. And it was just like tickling a ghost.

    It's heartbreaking. And it's all across the nation. This war must end. I was there a year ago, and it was bad then. But now we're feeding, assisting about eight million people that are literally on the brink of starvation out of a nation of 29 million people.

    And we are out in the field now doing new assessments. We believe that that number may jump from eight million to 12 or 14 million that are on the brink of starvation. It is a desperate situation.

    We need help. But, most importantly, the war needs to end, so that we can do what we can do and hopefully stimulate the economy. All these things are extremely important right now to a population that is not on the brink of a catastrophe. It is a catastrophe.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You talk about the need to end this war. That's a political question. Of course, that leads to talks, U.N.-sponsored talks, on one side, Saudi-led coalition, on the other Houthi rebels, in part perhaps sponsored, at least the U.S. says, by Iran.

    Is there the political will on all the sides to actually bring this war to a close?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, of course, if there's not political will to end this war, I can't imagine a greater catastrophe in my lifetime.

    Children are dying literally every single day from starvation. People are dying. People have lost their jobs. There's no jobs. There's no money in the economy. I don't know where they're going to go if we don't end this war. It must end.

    People must understand these aren't just numbers. These are little girls and little boys. These are children with names like Mohammed and Warta and Ahmed. They'd be like our little children. We have got to fight for them. And they need our — they need our standing up for them right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the Americans listening to this, hearing what you're saying, that they need help, what can normal Americans do, if anything?

  • David Beasley:

    I think the average American, first and foremost, pray for the children and the families in Yemen.

    Number two, call your political leaders and say, let's bring this war to an end. I think that's critical. But, at the same time, until that war does end, please make certain that we, like the World Food Program, have the support financially that we need to scale up and ramp up.

    Now, let me give you an example. We are spending right now, feeding over eight million people, about $100 million per month. We are going to have to ramp up to $150 million per month if, in fact, when we see the new numbers, and it shows that the numbers have gone from eight million to 12 million to 14 million people on the brink of starvation.

    So, if the American people would speak out and say, support the people that are starving to death in Yemen because of this war, I think, hopefully, that will wake up the political leadership to do what's good, to do what's right, first and foremost support the humanitarian needs, and then, number two — and that — and I think that's the most important thing — bring this war to an end.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    David Beasley of the World Food Program, just back from Yemen, thank you very much.

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