By: Patrick Cockburn
One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated. The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.
Now a count by a non-partisan group has produced a study demonstrating 56,000 people have been killed in Yemen since early 2016. The number is increasing by more than 2,000 per month as fighting intensifies around the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. It does not include those dying of malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera.
“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018”, says Andrea Carboni, who researches Yemen for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex that studies conflicts and is focusing attention on the real casualty level. He told me he expects a total of between 70,000 and 80,000 victims, when he completes research into the casualties, hitherto uncounted, who died between the start of the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemen civil war, in March 2015, and the end of that year.
The oft-cited figure of 10,000 dead comes from a UN official speaking only of civilians in early 2017, and has remained static since. This out of date statistic, drawn from Yemen’s patchy and war-damaged health system, has enabled Saudi Arabia and the UAE – who lead a coalition of states strongly backed by the US, UK and France – to ignore or downplay the loss of life.
Oxfam said this week, a civilian is being killed every three hours in the fighting, and between August 1 and October 15, 575 civilians were killed in the port city, including 136 children and 63 women. An airstrike on Wednesday killed 16 civilians in a vegetable market in Hodeidah, and other strikes this month have hit two buses at a Houthi-held checkpoint, killing 15 civilians, including four children.
Little information about casualties in Yemen reaches the outside world because Saudi and the UAE make access difficult for foreign journalists and other impartial witnesses. By contrast to the war in Syria, the American, British and French governments have no interest in highlighting the devastation caused in Yemen – they give diplomatic cover to the Saudi intervention. But their deliberate blindness to the death of so many Yemenis is starting to attract more negative attention, as a byproduct of the flood of international criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi – now admitted by Saudi officials – in Istanbul on October 2.
The absence of credible figures for the death toll in Yemen has made it easier for foreign powers to shrug off accusations they are complicit in a human disaster. That is despite frantic appeals from senior UN officials to the organisation’s Security Council to avert a manmade famine which now threatens 14 million Yemenis – half the population.
The crisis has worsened because of the siege of Hodeidah – with the city a lifeline for aid and commercial imports – since mid June, a situation that has forced 570,000 people to flee their homes. UN humanitarian affairs chief Mark Lowcock warned on October 23 “the immune systems of millions of people on survival support for years on end are now literally collapsing, making them – especially the elderly – more likely to succumb to malnutrition, cholera and other diseases”.
Just how many people die because they are weakened by hunger is difficult to know accurately, because most of the deaths happen at home and are unrecorded. This is particularly true of Yemen, where half the meagre health facilities no longer function, and people are often too poor to use those that do.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Death Toll in Yemen is Five Times Higher Than We Think…How Much Longer Will We Shrug Off Responsibility?’