Hunger Ward follows two inspiring medical professionals as they work tirelessly, and often in vain, to treat Yemen’s starving children.
The children are victims of the country's devastating civil war. The conflict, described by the UN as creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, began in 2014 between the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement.
Examining the impact of this largely forgotten war, Skye Fitzgerald’s beautifully shot and uncompromising film broke my heart. This is one of the most disturbing and upsetting documentaries that I have watched in a long, long time. It demands our attention... and our action.
In South Yemen, we meet Dr Aida Alsadeeq. She supervises the pediatric malnutrition ward at Sadaqa Hospital in Aden. We watch as she treats babies and young children. Among her patients is a 10 year old girl called Omeima. She weighs just 24 pounds.
Meanwhile, in a malnutrition clinic in North Yemen, we are introduced to Nurse Mekkia Mahdi. We see her care for a skeletal young girl called Abeer. Abeer is six years old and weighs only 15 pounds. To say it is heartbreaking to watch Abeer and Omeima does not do justice to the life that they have been forced to lead.
Dr Alsadeeq explains that each of her cases is different. What they all have in common, she reveals, is malnutrition and heartbreak. Compounding the problem is the fact that Abeer and Omeima suffer from an allergy to wheat - an increasingly common condition in Yemen, where all many children have to eat is the wheat provided by aid agencies.
Both Dr Alsadeeq and Nurse Mahdi know that many of the children that they treat will not survive. Nurse Mahdi has a camera roll of tiny patients who have died. “It’s like losing a sibling, or a child or another family member,” she says. The toll this takes on the two women and their colleagues is all too clear. Fitzgerald’s camera captures the reality of what they witness day after day - starvation, death and the unbearable pain of raw grief.
Not since For Sama have I experienced such distressing scenes. It cannot be overemphasised - Hunger Ward is an incredibly tough watch. However, this is also a vitally important documentary. As one man (who shares horrific footage capturing the aftermath of a missile strike on a funeral in Yemen) so eloquently demands, the world needs to know the depth of the Yemeni people’s suffering.
Hunger Ward has been acquired by MTV Documentary Films and will premiere on 1st March 2021 on Pluto TV.
The film, which features on 2021's Oscar shortlist for best documentary short subject, is the third in a trilogy of films by Fitzgerald on humanitarian and global refugee crises. 50 Feet from Syria was also shortlisted for an Oscar and Lifeboat was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short subject.
To donate directly to the two malnutrition wards featured in Hunger Ward, visit hungerward.org.