Ayesha was 14 months old when I met her at one of our emergency nutrition clinics in Hodeida, the port city at the centre of Yemen’s war.
Weighing just 8lbs, the average birthweight of a baby in the UK, and suffering from pneumonia and diarrhea, she wasn’t expected to survive. But with a lot of fight and a little aid from the UK, Ayesha recovered.
Somehow I doubt Ayesha’s family is following our tortured national debate on the UK’s ‘soft power’, aid and the future of the Department for International Development (Dfid). But for a window on why that debate matters, there’s no better vantage point than Yemen.
This is a country teetering on the brink of a war-induced famine. It’s described by the United Nations as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian disaster’. More than half a million children are at risk of starvation.
Health and education provision have all but collapsed. The economy is in freefall and poverty is rising. Thanks in large measure to a peace initiative driven by Jeremy Hunt and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), there is now a flicker of hope for Yemen’s future.
The UK has used its seat on the UN Security Council and engagement with the US to build momentum behind the initiative and broker a cease-fire around Hodeida. Meanwhile, Dfid is using its aid programme and its influence with donors to keep children alive and put in place the building blocks for recovery. This is what joined-up soft power looks like.