You could be forgiven for not knowing much about Yemen. The situation there has long been recognised as the worst humanitarian crisis on earth, but so far the world’s media has largely ignored it. Even with all eyes on Saudi Arabia this week following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there has been little mention of the horrors being inflicted on the people of Yemen.
When you see the true extent to the UK and US governments’ involvement in the ‘forgotten’ Yemen war, it raises some disturbing questions.
Yemen is a hell on earth, and it’s only going to get worse. Over 10,000 people have already died in the three-year conflict, and 22 million people (three quarters of the population) are in need of humanitarian aid. There have been over 18,000 air strikes launched by the Saudi coalition since 2015, many of which have killed civilians, including children. Schools and hospitals continue to be targeted. In July, the CEO of Save the Children called Yemen ‘the worst place to be a child on earth’. The economy and infrastructure are in tatters: people are queuing for days for food only to be turned away, and some are being forced to eat leaves to survive. Mothers are having to help their premature newborn babies to breathe because of a lack of medical assistance. Thousands have died from cholera. And as if that wasn’t enough, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen told the BBC earlier this week that an estimated 12 to 13 million civilians could be at risk of dying from starvation over the coming months if the war continues, making it the world’s worst famine in 100 years.
A huge amount of international effort is being poured into providing aid to the Yemeni people. But while the fighting continues, the humanitarian crisis is only going to get worse.
Who’s fighting whom – and how are the US and UK involved?
The war began in 2015 when a group of Houthi rebels took advantage of a weak and unpopular president and seized control of some key areas of Yemen. They were supported by many disillusioned Yemenis (and allegedly also by Iran). In response, neighbouring Saudi Arabia formed a coalition with eight other Arab countries and began an air campaign in an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government. They were supported militarily and logistically by the US, the UK and France. The war has raged ever since. Both sides have committed war crimes, civilians continue to endure unimaginable suffering, and there is no end in sight. The conflict needs to find a political solution, but neither side appears to have any interest in peaceful negotiation.
For the horrific suffering of innocent Yemenis to end, the war needs to end – and this brings us much closer to home. The US and UK governments, who have supported this conflict from the start, could effectively end it if they chose to by withdrawing support for Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition in Britain, accused the current government of “colluding” with Saudi Arabia in committing war crimes. He said that Britain “not only supports the war… but British military personnel advise the Saudi air force and military on targeting… which as we know has led to very large numbers of civilian casualties and very clear evidence of the targeting of schools and hospitals.”
Similarly, Trump and his secretary of state have continued to provide assistance to Saudi Arabia in the form of intelligence, military training, mid-air jet refuelling and billions of dollars’ worth of arms, despite serious concerns within congress about human rights violations.
Both nations have profited greatly from their trade with Saudi Arabia since the war began – British weapons companies have made well over £6bn, and during a visit to Saudi Arabia last year Trump agreed to nearly $110bn of weapons sales over ten years.
Are we OK with this? Why is no-one talking about it? Where is the outrage, the public protests demanding justice for those dropping bombs on children, and an end to the war that is condemning millions to starve?
It’s possible that the current scandal surrounding the death of Jamal Khashoggi could lead to a withdrawal of support for Saudi Arabia from the UK and US. If this happens (which seems unlikely, considering the endless list of Saudi human rights breaches already swept under the carpet), how tragically ironic that the death of one Saudi man would have a greater impact than the desperate plight of an entire nation.
In an interview for the BBC’s ‘The Inquiry’ in April 2017, Nabeel Khoury (a former senior diplomat at the US embassy in Yemen) called the US and the UK the “main enablers” for the war, and stated that he didn’t “see much hope in the current governments in the US or the UK to change their policies unless there is a groundswell of pressure from the population”.
In the same programme, Yemen analyst Sama’a Al-Hamdani says: “What a shame on humanity, on the entire world to turn their back to this, when people are dying like that. Shame on us all.”
The presenter Ruth Alexander provides this summary: “Britain and the US could put pressure on Saudi Arabia, but to date, they’ve done the exact opposite, and actively supported its military. The UN has tried to draw attention to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but that’s all it can do. That only leaves public opinion. That could change, putting pressure on governments to act, but so far, Yemen is struggling for attention in a world distracted by, or perhaps hardened by, dark conflicts elsewhere.”
So it would appear that the fate of the Yemeni population relies on public opinion. That’s us. People like you and me reading the stories, letting our hearts be broken and being moved to action. Getting informed, writing to our MP or congressperson, seeking out movements to be part of (or starting them), forcing our leaders to pay attention. The crisis is overwhelming, but by standing up and speaking out, we could become a part of the solution.
The world needs to wake up now.
Image via Pixabay