The desperate situation in Yemen cannot be hidden anymore. More and more international voices are calling for a halt to the fighting, says Chris Nineham
The most serious humanitarian disaster on the planet remains largely unreported. This despite the fact that the situation of the people of Yemen is actually getting worse.
At the end of September, the UN said that at least 24 million people – more than three-quarters of Yemen’s population – need aid and protection. The country now stands once again on the brink of mass famine.
In a country where the health service and all other essential infrastructure has been decimated, no-one really knows the toll being taken by the coronavirus. The UN now estimates only that Yemen tops the global list of unreported corona deaths.
This is not a natural disaster. It is an entirely man-made and avoidable. It has two main causes. The underlying one is the war that has been fought on the country by a Saudi-led alliance since 2015. Tens of thousands have died in the Western-backed onslaught and the whole of the country has been devastated. A recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council said Yemeni farms had been hit more than 900 times by shelling and airstrikes in the last three years.
The war has led to widespread starvation and sparked the world’s worst cholera epidemic. As Jan Egeland, the council’s Secretary-General and a former UN Humanitarian relief official said recently, “Yemenis aren’t falling into starvation, they are being pushed into the abyss by men with guns and power.”
The second factor is the ongoing Saudi led blockade of Yemeni ports and associated cuts to the aid programme. Over the summer Saudi forces ensured that a large number of ships carrying food, gas and medical supplies were not able to dock in Hodeida despite having UN clearance. 24 hospitals across the country issued a statement complaining that they were running out of vital supplies and asking the UN to intervene.
To make matters worse, international aid to Yemen has been slashed during the pandemic, largely as a consequence of aid budget cuts by the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. At the end of September, The United Nations said that critical aid was cut at 300 health centres because of a lack of funding, and lifesaving food distribution has been drastically reduced.
Between April and August, more than one-third of the UN’s humanitarian programmes in Yemen was reduced or shut down entirely. The UN warned of further drastic cuts “in coming weeks unless additional funding is received”.
The reason why these shameful facts are not broadcast more widely in the West is that Britain, the US and France are deeply implicated in the war. Last year’s court case bought by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade forced Britain to suspend arms licences to Saudi Arabia. This year however, the government defied that ruling. In July the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss claimed that any violations of international law were “isolated incidents” She went on to say that the government would resume issuing new licences for arms sales for use in Yemen: “clearing the backlog of licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.”
Britain’s support for the war, in other words, continues unchecked.
Saudi Arabia’s economy is in trouble, its war coalition has fractured both inside and outside Yemen. Bin Salman’s regime is now uncertain about whether it has any prospect of winning the war. In these circumstances, Britain’s and the US’s continuing military, economic and political support for Saudi Arabia is central to prolonging the for the war and the resulting misery.
Despite the virtual news black out, opposition to the war is growing around the world. Stop the War is very pleased to be involved in an international initiative to strengthen opposition to the war globally and to co-ordinate action. The first meeting, titled ‘The World Says No to War on Yemen’ takes place on Thursday at 6.30pm British time. Please do your best to attend and spread the word.
Click here to register for the event.
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Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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