Children in Yemen are dying of starvation and malnutrition as I write. Some put the figure of dead children due to starvation at 85,000. This is a conservative estimate. According to the UN, one child is likely to die every 10 minutes in Yemen. The UN estimates that 400,000 children are starving, another 1.5 million are already malnourished and a further five million children are on the brink of famine. What is worse is that there is no permanent resolution to the fighting in sight, with the war having entered its fourth year. This means that it is very likely that the situation will get worse for Yemen’s children. This year must belong to those children — to find a solution, to end the war, to make sure children live into adulthood.
Saudi Arabia is carrying out this economic warfare in Yemen, with the express backing of Hadi’s government in Saudi Arabia. Yemen is being attacked by air and sea, courtesy of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of destroying its economy and stifling every point of entry into the country. This includes the blockade of the major port on the Red Sea, which is the main route used for aid and humanitarian assistance into Yemen.
Why then has it taken so long for Western powers to talk about Yemen? Because to talk about Saudi Arabia and its royal family’s actions does not suit anyone’s interest. However, the recent brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has led to increased scrutiny on the foreign policy action of Saudi Arabia. Since Jamal Khashoggi’s death, Washington’s lawmakers have been keen to increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia and have begun talking about the need for a ceasefire in Yemen. They have also begun discussing the possible halting to arms sales to the Saudis. There has also been a shift in Western media reporting of the conflict — more of it, more focused, more critical of the Saudis. And of the Americans for their silence. This deserved increased media attention on Yemen has shown us the extent of the misery of Yemen’s children; the children’s sunken faces, bodies that look like x-rays, so pronounced are the rib cages and bones — it is as if the children’s facial expression are consumed with concentration on the arduous task of simply surviving.
However, even though the conflict has been in the limelight recently, with superpowers like America and regional powers like Saudi Arabia involved — not to mention the arms industry and its vast profits — the war in Yemen is much bigger than us. We are removed from it for far greater reasons then just geography. It is also difficult to see that countries, particularly Western countries, who profess to be beacons of human rights, will actually demand an end to the war or to go as far as hold Saudi Arabia accountable. With the veto power at the UN, it is difficult to see even the UN being able to hold powerful nations to account on this. I recently posed, to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President at a lecture in Islamabad, the question of whether it is time to re-assess the role of UNGA if conflicts like Sudan, Palestine and Yemen carry on without any foreseeable resolution. Her Excellency Ms Garces’s answer included that despite a difficult situation, progress was being made in Yemen.
Progress then is certainly a relative word for onlookers and laypersons. For those of us not in positions of power or influence, for the sake of the children of Yemen, we must ask ourselves whether we really are too insignificant to say or do anything? People power, which has shown to be effective in many parts of the world, should demand the end of this horrific conflict. Everyone must have a way to register their protest and use social media as a collective, global voice to protest. People everywhere must speak truth to power and put pressure on their elected representatives that the war, even when far away from their shores and daily lives, must end, and end now. Nations, no matter how small, also have a moral consciousness and they must exercise it — in bilateral discussions and at larger multilateral forums. This year must be dedicated to the dying children of Yemen.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author. Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2019.