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13M people at risk of starving to death in Yemen, UN warns

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Yemen spirals towards world's worst famine in a century; pot producers are racing to build a following for their brands without running afoul of government regulations around cannabis marketing

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A Yemeni child suffering from malnutrition lies on a bed at a treatment centre in a hospital in the capital Sanaa on Oct. 6. Aid workers say somewhere between 8 and 10 million people are going hungry every day in the region. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • In Yemen, 13 million people are at risk of death by starvation, the United Nations warns.
  • With days to go until recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, pot producers are racing to build a following for their brands without running afoul of government regulations.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Yemen famine

Yemen is on the brink of a historic famine that could put as many as 13 million people at risk of death by starvation, the United Nations warns.

Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, issued the warning in an interview with the BBC yesterday. Grande said the fierce fighting between Saudi-backed government forces and Houthi rebels, and the ongoing blockade of aid shipments, have created the conditions for humanitarian disaster on a scale not seen since Ethiopia in the 1980s or the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

A Yemeni man carries his child, who is suffering from malnutrition, into a treatment centre at a hospital in the capital Sanaa on Oct. 6. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

"Many of us had confidence that it would never happen again. But the reality is that in Yemen, that's precisely what we're looking at," said Grande. "We predict that we could be looking at 12 to 13 million innocent civilians who are at risk of dying from a lack of food."

Malnutrition is already rampant, with more than 22 million Yemenis — three quarters of the population — in need of food assistance, and somewhere between 8 and 10 million going hungry every day.

What food there is available is increasingly out of reach for most Yemenis, as the collapse of the country's currency has seen prices double in just the past month.

The civil war, now in its fourth year, has already claimed the lives of between 10,000 and 50,000 civilians — the fighting has made precise counts all but impossible — and displaced more than two million.

A man holds a sign protesting the lack of food as he demonstrates against the deteriorating economy in Taiz, Yemen, on Oct. 4. (Anees Mahyoub/Reuters)

The Saudis and their allies from the United Arab Emirates have carried out more than 18,000 airstrikes since 2015, with increasingly deadly consequences. One monitoring project estimates that civilian deaths are up 164 per cent since the beginning of the siege of the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeidah in June.

On Saturday, at least 17 more people — many of them women and children — were killed when Saudi planes bombed two city buses stopped at a Houthi checkpoint in the city.

Footage of the aftermath, released by the rebels, shows groceries and women's handbags scattered around the charred and twisted wreckage. The Houthis say one family of five was among the dead.

The United Nations has condemned the attack, which has echoes of an August airstrike against a school bus that left 51 dead, reminding all sides of their duties to protect non-combattants.

A man inspects the wreckage of a bus at the site of a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Aug. 9 in Saada, Yemen. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

Other reaction has been even more pointed.

"We note with anger an unacceptable pattern of attacks on civilian women, men and children by parties to the conflict who profess concern for the interests and welfare of Yemeni people," the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement. "The drumbeat of assaults on men, women and children is one that has become appallingly routine. We are no longer shocked by atrocities of this kind, but are astounded at the fact that they are allowed to go on with the full knowledge of western powers funding and fuelling this war."

What is changing, however, seems to be the targets that Saudi and UAE planes are selecting.

For more than two years, aid groups have been complaining about strikes against schools and hospitals, but now there are suggestions that the food supply is routinely being bombed.

A report by an American academic, released last week, details a wide range of airstrikes and military actions that seem designed to cause food instability. They include the sinking of fishing boats and an attack on Hodeidah's main market in August that left at least 26 dead.

A fisherman paddles his boat past destroyed buildings on the coast of the port city of Hodeida, Yemen, on Sept. 28. The important port city has been the focus of recent fighting in the region. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)

"In the early months of the war, the targets were primarily military," writes Professor Martha Mundy of Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "From August 2015 there appears a shift from military and governmental to civilian and economic targets, including water and transport infrastructure, food production and distribution, roads and transport, schools, cultural monuments, clinics and hospitals, and houses, fields and flocks."

In this wider economic war everything from livestock to storage bins to food processing centres are under attack, says Mundy.

"There is strong evidence that the coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of [the rebel government in] Sanaa," she concludes.

A Yemeni doctor holds the legs of a child suffering from malnutrition at a treatment centre in a hospital in the capital Sanaa on Oct. 6. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

To date, the Saudi-led war in Yemen has been undertaken with the full blessing and active support of the West, in terms of weapons sales — and in the case of the United States, logistical backup and intelligence-sharing, too.

But growing anger over the apparent death of one civilian — the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — might change that dynamic.

This past weekend, both Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Republican counterpart Jeff Flake appeared on political panel shows and called for an end to arms sales to the Saudis, if it is indeed established that they murdered Khashoggi inside their consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He has not been seen or heard from since. (Hurriyet via AP)

That's a step that President Donald Trump doesn't want to take, given that he sees a $110 billion US arms deal negotiated by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, as one of his administration's major accomplishments.

"I know they're talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they're spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others, for this country," Trump said on Thursday, suggesting that there are "other things we can do."

Yet firm contracts have only been signed for $14.5 billion of that military hardware, according to the Pentagon — still a big number, but one that would be easier to walk away from.

Such a cancellation wouldn't necessarily stop Yemen's civil war — the Saudis have plenty of bombs and other hardware, and the Houthis can rely on their friends in Iran.

It might, however, be a way to limit the growth of a conflict that now threatens the lives of millions. 

Marketing cannabis

With days to go until recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, reporter Tom Murphy looks into how pot producers are trying to build a following for their brands without running afoul of government regulations:

It feels a little like Mad Men for the modern day.

When you walk into the boardroom of the branding company Shikatani Lacroix in Toronto, the air is full of ideas to hopefully lure you to buy cannabis.

You also get the sense there's a lot at stake for their client, Organigram — one of the licensed cannabis producers in this country vying for your business.

Gary Oakley, left, Christopher Woo and Lori Smale, a team at Toronto branding company Shikatani Lacroix, go over ideas to promote a company's recreational cannabis products to consumers. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

There is a lot a riding on getting this right. Some estimates put the value of the fledgling, legalized cannabis industry at $10 billion.

Companies like Organigram have invested a lot of money (no-one really likes to tell you how much) for the biggest chance since Prohibition to make some serious dough from what was once considered a vice. You can't help but wonder if this is what it was like behind the scenes of the first sophisticated campaigns for "big tobacco" back in the day.

The attention to detail of the branding is excruciating, all in hopes of connecting you in the blink of an eye with Organigram's cannabis pitch. The design of the container. The logo. The colour of the logo. Where the logo fits on the container. You get the idea.

Every imaginable detail about the packaging of the product they hope will lure you to buy their pot is parsed.

The team has been brainstorming every imaginable detail about the packaging of their client's cannabis. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

And they don't like the word "pot," by the way. It's not sophisticated enough.

The marketing team has spent countless hours and endless days around the boardroom table racking their brains for ways to appeal to you, the cannabis consumer.

They aren't wearing 1960s suits or nervously smoking cigarettes, and they certainly are not smoking joints. But you get the sense they might need a puff or two when Oct. 17 passes.

  • WATCH: Tom Murphy's story about cannabis marketing tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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A few words on ... 

Finally getting a subway seat.

Quote of the moment

"Their Royal Highnesses very much appreciate all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share their happy news."

- Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce that they are expecting their first child next spring.

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Turkish, Saudi officials to do 'inspection' of consulate where journalist Khashoggi disappeared (CBC)
  • How chemical weapons have helped bring Assad close to victory (BBC)
  • Germany deports 9/11 accomplice (Deutsche Welle)
  • At least 13 killed by flash floods in southwestern France (Reuters)
  • Another NASA space telescope shuts down in orbit (CBC)
  • Elizabeth Warren releases DNA test on Native American ancestry (Boston Globe)
  • How an unlikely family history website has transformed cold case investigations (NY Times)
  • Googly eyes placed on Georgia historic monument (CNN)

Today in history

Oct. 15, 2002: EverQuest or 'EverCrack'?

The hottest video game of the early 'Oughts' had many devotees spending 25 or 30 hours per week solving quests and slaying dragons. But as Wendy Mesley reports, there were allegations that the online fantasy world was too alluring, leading to social isolation, feeding depression and in some cases contributing to suicides.​

EverQuest, or 'EverCrack'?

21 years ago
Duration 10:55
CBC's Wendy Mesley delves into the controversy surrounding a highly addictive online video game called EverQuest in 2002.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.