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Yemen’s Loss Of Antiquities Is ‘Robbing Them Of Their Future’

In Yemen, tens of thousands of children have starved to death in a war led by Saudi Arabia that will soon enter its fourth year. Another 14 million — half the country’s population — are at risk of starvation.

A November 2018 report from Save the Children estimates that 85,000 children under the age of five “have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war in Yemen escalated.” The United Nations, meanwhile, has said the war in Yemen is the largest and worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Thousands of civilians have been killed, and in the backdrop of this bloodshed and destruction is another tragedy: the looting of the country’s history. Its precious antiquities plundered by criminals and violent extremists.

Deborah Lehr is the founder and chair of the Antiquities Coalition, an organization that works to stop the trafficking of antiquities and preserve cultural heritage.. She co-wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post this week with Yemen’s Ambassador to the United States, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, about what the loss of antiquities means for Yemen’s future.

“There’s no question that there’s a humanitarian crisis and it’s very tragic the loss of life and displacement that has taken place, but these items, these symbols really, represent their rich history, their religion and quite honestly, their economic future,” Lehr says. “All of these are being taken away. The robbing of the past is really robbing them of their future.”

Lehr spoke with NPR’s Leila Fadel about what’s happening in Yemen as these antiquities are taken from the country and what she has proposed with the ambassador to stop the loss of Yemen’s history and culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.