What they all have in common is malnutrition and heartbreak.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Skye Fitzgerald‘s documentary short Hunger Ward proves a tough watch considering many in America and Europe are unaware of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen despite its 2014 origins. We’re talking about the worst famine in one hundred years ignited by a civil war that those knowledgeable of the conflict say is really an offshoot of a bigger one between Saudi Arabia (who supports the former government) and Iran (who supports the rebel government that has taken power). And as the fight spills over into the community due to bombings (of which the US is complicit) and blockades, the death toll mounts. Pair a crumbling infrastructure with dwindling resources and you receive a population unable to sustain itself long enough to find a solution.
That I myself learned the details of this situation post-viewing, however, reveals how the film itself is less about educating us on the humanitarian crisis’ genesis than it is ensuring we cannot look away. And you can’t blame Fitzgerald for going in that direction—even if you believe the now twice Oscar-nominated director’s work is little more than polished advertisements for donations. Why? Because it’s been seven years. Audiences have had seven years to take note of what’s happening. We in America finally saw our government take action in 2019 to cease our participation (selling weapons) only to watch Donald Trump veto the resolution and the Senate fail to come up with the votes to override him (we’ve steadily become a country that values blood money over lives).
So rather than give us a lecture about information we can easily look up ourselves, Fitzgerald throws us into the collateral damage. We glean bits and pieces from what Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi say in context with the child patients they’re desperate to save from starvation and the footage that a gentleman captured during the aftermath of a bombing at a funeral he was attending—enough to understand their stakes and the ambivalence of outside forces willing to use Yemen as a battleground to wreak havoc without suffering the cost. We can infer the sacrifices being made and the soldiers torn apart. What we too often forget are the civilian lives affected right along with them. These children are dying without any means of recourse.
Know then that along with little Omeima and Abeer as cute faces on the mend come other nameless children taking their last breathes on-screen via a breathing pump. Know that along with the smiling kids playing with balloons are the wails of mothers and grandmothers who are unable to cope with the reality of their situations. And it’s not just the visible hardships like a lack of food or water either. Add an increase in wheat allergies (the staple ingredient from aid packages) and families quite literally have no way to feed themselves due to the expense of every alternative. Hunger Ward is thus a harrowing glimpse into the heartache and futility experienced when war expands beyond the battlefield to target defenseless innocents inside their homes.