Nearly Four Years of Yemeni Struggle.
Originates from seen on Yopics.co.uk.
In many respects, Yemen is a unique member of the Arab peninsula, its location, climate, culture, and history is not shared by its neighbours. And yet in modern times, Yemen has struggled to leverage its uniqueness to its benefit, and over the last three and a half years it has been consumed by a bloody war.
The Yemeni people have been starved, bombed and used for the whims of others in recent decades. As it stands Yemen seems helpless, unable to overcome a crisis. In many respects, the country has become a shadow of what it once was and the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel is barely visible.
“…no one cares about the situation in Yemen, particularly the humanitarian crisis.”
War is and always has been a grime constant in humanity. It is a sobering reminder of how uncivilized the world can become if the right unfortunate elements combine. If you share this belief, it will come as little surprise that Yemen’s war has rumbled on for three years without really turning heads. A war that has cost thousands of lives, destroyed homes, hospitals, even schools while making others a fortune. Like many before it, Yemen’s war has been fueled by a lucrative arms industry, particularly dominated by familiar faces.
Even the very public murdering of Jamal Khashoggi (Washington Post Correspondent) inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, which highlighted the cozy relationship strategic allies failed to, produced much change. The Saudi led Arab coalition who has been directly fighting the ‘Houthi rebels’ in Yemen have bought arms from the UK and US alone to the tune of over $100 billion over the last year.
Other European countries including France, The Netherlands, and Germany have also sold arms to Saudi Arabia and the coalition, however, they all have suspended their own sales after the details of Jamal Khashoggi’s death became known. With pressure building on the UK and US to follow suit, some ugly politics have reared their heads.
The arms and military equipment bought from the US and UK are being put to use in Yemen. The Saudi led coalition continues to viciously fight the Houthis within Yemen, predominantly through airstrikes. Their fighting has been inefficient, to say the least. In fact, it appears almost indiscriminate; millions of civilians have been affected by their bombing and artillery fire, either being directly injured or killed by attacks, or displaced because of the damage, especially in the northern provinces where fighting is most fierce. Some blame the Saudis for unnecessarily escalating the situation to serve their own agenda within the region; containing Iranian expansion. But the blame for this war falls at the feet of many, not just a few.
This is another story of people trying to survive in an environment that is crumbling around them. After nearly four years of violence, the country is reaching a point of no return, and it is still unclear if any tangible steps have been taken to bring the conflict to an end. One thing, however, is clear; Yemen cannot afford it to continue.
To begin to understand the effects inflicted on the citizens of Yemen, I sat down and first looked at the numbers. It was a depressing read. The UN humanitarian chief reported the conflict in Yemen has left 8.4 million people dependent on emergency food assistance, and 75% of its 22 million people requiring some form of aid, and those numbers are only increasing.
Possibly more concerning is the inaccessibility of Yemen for those trying to help with the humanitarian crisis sweeping the country in the gloomy shadow of war. A blockade restricting imports and international support coming into the country has deteriorated the already abysmal conditions many Yemeni live in.
The pivotal port of Hudaydah, which sits on Yemen’s west coast giving access to the Red Sea, supplies 70–80% of the aid currently coming into the country. World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley spoke in the port city on the 15th November saying;
“I am here to send a clear message to the world that we need to protect this port at all costs, make sure that it can function at the highest capacity, because if we don’t then people are going to die.”
Like the nation’s ports (mostly under Houthi control), the Northern provinces controlled by the Arab coalition have remained equally difficult to access to aid workers, government peacekeepers, and international delegations. This opaque operation has drawn heavy criticism internationally, but such criticism has fallen on deaf ears. Until that is, earlier this month both sides sat down in Rimbo, Sweden hosted by the UN. The negotiations concluded in a reopening of the port and a ceasefire in surrounding provinces. This is maybe a slither of hope in this otherwise hopeless situation. It’ll be vital that the access is maintained to facilitate the aid work needed to bring Yemeni people back from the edges of catastrophe.
Cholera too is one such catastrophic side effect of this war. More than 1.1 million suspected cholera cases and over 2,000 people have been killed by the illness, only exemplified by the lack of access and infrastructure. There is undeniably a monumental need in all respects, and that need is only continuing to claim lives as I write and you read.
Any way you try to frame the situation, it can only be seen as desperate. Perhaps, much of the suffering is an unplanned byproduct of good intentions. But at some point, the scale of suffering should outweigh the intent, no matter how well intended they may have started out as.
Some do-gooders in the middle of the catastrophe are those operating and working with aid agencies in Yemen. NGO’s (non-governmental organization) have received a fair share of criticism over the last few years, but in this case, they are what stands between millions suffering and hundreds of thousands dead like we saw in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
In order for me to comprehend the task ahead of those parties helping I reached out to Yemeni NGO founder, Fatik al-Rodanini. By trade a journalist, Fatik put down his pen and began helping with the humanitarian crisis that surrounded him. For the last few years, he has been heading MONA Relief, delivering essential supplies and medical aid to 42,000 families and counting.
His experience working with Yemen’s most in need has given him a comprehensive view of the human cost of this war. While speaking to Fatik I was both struck with a confidence of a brighter future, and overwhelmingly saddened by the realism he spoke. Fatik was happy to tell his story, hoping to be apart of Yemen’s peaceful and prosperous future.
In our first conversation via email in August 2018, Fatik told me “I have visited many places across Yemen and I have seen damages everywhere which can’t be described by anyone.” referring to damages inflicted on Yemen by routine airstrikes. He also explains how the country’s struggles are widespread and not limited to a pocket of fighting fronts or the government-controlled area.
“To be frank with you, the situation in Yemen is very poor, not only in Northern provinces but also in the Southern provinces which are under the control of President Hadi’s government (Houthi Government).”
A few months later I was disappointed to hear the situation was only in further decline and moving towards a dangerously chronic level of suffering. “A child dies every ten minutes, the situation is shocking,” he tells me over video chat. His voice is surprisingly calm given the words coming out of his mouth. I guess this is to be expected given his daily tasks involve helping the most desperate of people, it must be the only natural for these details to become in some ways “normal”.
The day-to-day survival of many Yemeni is not becoming easier, and the reaction of the international community has not gone unnoticed by people like Fatik. During our first conversation, he spoke passionately about calling for international assistance. Our second conversation brought to light the realism Fatik still held on to. Perhaps this has come from his journalist training, or maybe just a well-rounded understanding of our world.
“The situation is getting worse and worse every day. And it seems no one cares about the situation in Yemen, particularly the humanitarian crisis.”
Fatik refers to the political outrage, which in many ways ignored the civilian issues suffocating the country.
Those words, however pessimistic are in many ways, far too true. The official, cliché line we’ve heard from ambassadors, diplomats, governors, ministers, and presidents is ‘the situation is very bad and it needs to stop’, some might even condemn the war and its actors. Unfortunately, in most cases these words are hollow considering how both Britain and the United States have refused to stop the arms and military equipment sales to Saudi Arabia, deeming them too lucrative to abandon. Therefore, both nations are responsible for literally fuelling and loading the planes that have caused much of the destruction in during the coalition offenses.
Other efforts by international organizations like the UN and EU to coordinate negotiations between the two fractions have so far been relatively unfruitful. It is clear that when progress is made it will not be breaking news met with fanfare. Instead expect slow, growling, and incremental moments of progress, until a conclusion is agreed upon. As is to be expected it has proved extremely difficult to guide two ideologically different groups towards peace.
However, one such moment came from the ongoing peace talks in Rimbo, Sweden, where both the recognized Yemeni government and Houthi envoys gathered in order to negotiations a de-escalate of the conflict.
The Rimbo talks captured the press’s attention and have concluded with some positive action, however fragile. An agreement on both sides to leave the vital port of Hadaydah and implement a cease-fire in the surrounding provinces have provided some hope. However, it remains unclear if the Houthi’s will uphold the agreement made in Sweden. It seems unlikely that two sides with major conflicting ideologies will willingly withdraw from a prominent strategic location. Speaking with journalists in the region, it seems if both sides are faithful to their commitments in Sweden, then we could see a swift end to the conflict. However, there is not a great deal of hope that this will happen. So it will still require a collective international effort to de-escalate the violence in the country.
Towards the end of last year, on 28th November 2018, the US Senate made the first step towards answering those concerns with a vote of 63–37 in favour of a resolution that would end US support to the Arab coalition in Yemen. Co-sponsor of the resolution, Tim Kaine said: “Congress will stand up to Saudi leadership when the Trump administration won’t”. Sounds encouraging, but we have also heard, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham expressing to reporters ‘‘we don’t have time this year’’ to pursue action against the Saudi led coalition. It is unlikely that the Senate’s vote will be repeated in the house making resolution law since the administration has shown no desire to withdraw from the Saudi deal.
British Prime Minister, Theresa May also seemed to have an altered perspective on the issue telling reporters before touching down in Buenos Aires;
“…on the issue of Yemen we continue to be deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation…The long-term solution for Yemen is a political situation and we will be encouraging all parties actually to look for that and work for that.”
But for now at least both the US and UK are still supporting the coalition, and in this case, actions speak much louder than words.
In this bizarre political storm, it falls to people like Fatik al-Rodanini and the countless other aid workers to proactively hold the country from complete catastrophe. Their work is at times unimaginable, but continuously vital for those suffering in Yemen. Clearly, this type of scenario is far from being sustainable long-term, and much more has to be done to restore this country to some form of safety and security.
After briefly mentioning the future of his country, Fatik was quick to tell me how ready people are to stay, rebuild, and move on once it is made safe enough to do so.
‘People don’t want to leave their country, they love their country. When the fighting stops, we will rebuild our country.’
With the number of conflicting participants involved in this war, that hopeful future might be hard to imagine. Quite simply there are too many dollars on the line for the US to haul the sale of arms to the Saudi’s, even if they’re being used recklessly. Trump actually called halting the $110 Billion deal ‘foolish’ in October when questions arose about it after the Jamal Khashoggi murder. And even though the language Trump employed was somewhat, well, ‘trumpish’, he and Prime Minister May have good reason to not take drastic action. To prevent another Syria, another ISIS, those involved will have to go about de-escalating the Yemen conflict methodically. A certain level of national security and support needs to be established to avoid a post-war civil power struggle.
Research fellow at New America specializing in Arab and Islamic affairs, Barak Barif, writing for Project Syndicate, explained how the US, in particular, sees it as a priority to stay in the ‘Kingdoms’ good books;
“…Saudi Arabia wears too many hats for America to abandon it easily. Though the US no longer needs Saudi oil, thanks to its shale reserves, it does need the Kingdom to regulate production and thereby stabilize markets. American defence contractors are dependent on the billions the Kingdom spends on military hardware. Intelligence cooperation is crucial to ferreting out jihadists and thwarting their plots. But, most important, Saudi Arabia is the leading Arab bulwark against Iranian expansionism. The Kingdom has supported proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to contain Iran’s machinations. Any steps to hold the Saudis responsible for Khashoggi’s death would force the US to assume responsibilities it is far more comfortable outsourcing.”
The West’s dependency on Saudi Arabia has long been present in political relationships, and for some of these relationships produced unimaginable wealth and new found freedoms. But don’t be misdirected by spun press releases praising more economic growth if it is catalyzed by these types of partnerships.
While the relationships with Western countries and Saudi Arabia seem unhealthy, equally cancerous politics are staples in Iranian/Russian international policies. Each side supporting a very different ideology, and determined to prevent the other from expanding its reach. It is this cocktail of corruption coupled with deep seeded disdain, that keeps progression to a brighter future in Yemen at arm’s length. A common reality for developing nations in the region.
The reality is heartbreaking when you acknowledge lives are being lost because of this mixture of geopolitical relationships, greed, and religious differences. Political and financial gain is valued higher than life, and worst of all, this depressing pattern is not isolated to Yemen. Look around, this order of prioritization can be seen all over the world, past, and present.
It is for these reasons that we are unlikely to see any valuable development in the country until serious and restricting sanctions are upheld against Saudi Arabia and the ‘Arab coalition’, illustrating that international law cannot be ignored with a bottomless pocket. And simultaneously stand against Iranian intervention in others sovereignty. If collectively our world leaders fail to strike a balance the country is likely to fall into a post-war scene reminiscent of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which is something nobody wants. If a level of accountability on the international stage isn’t shown to the acting parties we have proven our societies east and west are swayed with cash instead of humanity.
Understandably reading something like this can be somewhat down-heartening. But luckily for most of you reading, there are things you can do to help. Some of the easiest ways you can do that are via donating, to support the vital humanitarian aid efforts of the likes of;
After the Hudaydah port is demilitarised, an agreement was made on a timescale of 21-days, it will mean NGO, the UN and EU etc will have an easier time distributing aid. If simply donating does not feel like enough, why not reach out to your representative and pressure them to priorities Yemen’s humanitarian crisis in their work. Share your concerns with friends, family, colleagues, physically and virtually. Any support you are capable of is worth the 30–60 minutes you might spend.
These types of complex and distant events shouldn’t be left unchecked, simply because they may not directly affect those living in Europe or North America. It is high time we hold those accountable for their roles of power, and we should never sit watching while a country suffers for over three years.
To me, it’s this contradiction in values that draw us closer to political and civil disappearance, saying human rights must be upheld and even progressed can’t be altered when it does not align with a favourable agreement. It is this hypocrisy that fuels division and confusion we see throughout many aspects of our modern world. If the western world so desires to be world leaders, then it is time they started to act as such.