YemenEXtra
YemenExtra

What’s going on in Yemen?

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YemenExtra

Written by Mona Zaid

The one thing we can be certain of is that Yemen is at a crossroads. And that crossroads has become a chaotic intersection with no traffic lights.

 

Yemen is not the most peaceful corner of the Arab world. Situated at the southernmost tip of the Middle East, just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, it is the region’s poorest country.

 

Yemen is also one of the more heavily armed Arab nations: it is estimated that there are more than 60 million guns in a country with a population of 25 million.

 

The conflict started in 2015, but it’s getting worse, particularly around an escalation of conflict around Hodeidah .

 

Hodeidah is a crucial port city in the south west of Yemen, the fighting around the port escalated. Ninety per cent of commercial goods come through the port so that’s pretty much everything from food, fuel, water – anything you can imagine comes through this port.

 

The fighting around the port is bad news. Not only does it stop much needed food from entering the country, but aid to help starving people is blocked, too.

 

Fourteen million people, so half the population of Yemen – that’s more than the combined population of Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane probably – that are at risk of famine and have no idea where their next meal is coming from.

 

The blockade at the port means much-needed medicine to treat the Patients are even harder to get. For years now, a relentless Saudi air campaign (quite literally fueled by the U.S. military) has hit endless civilian targets, using American smart bombs and missiles, without a peep of protest or complaint from Washington. Only a highly publicized, completely over-the-top slaughter recently forced the Pentagon to finally do a little mild finger wagging.

 

On August 7th 2018, an airstrike hit a school bus — with a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin — in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them schoolchildren. Seventy-nine others were wounded, including 56 children. Soon after, a U.N. Security Council-appointed group of experts issued a report detailing numerous other egregious attacks on Yemeni civilians, including people attending weddings and funerals. Perhaps the worst among them killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, this April.

 

The Saudis and their allies must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.” Considering that they haven’t come close to meeting such a standard since the war started nearly five years ago and that the Trump administration clearly has no intention of reducing its support for the Saudis or their war, Mattis’s new yardstick amounted to a cruel joke — at the expense of Yemeni civilians.

 

Wartime economic blockades starve and sicken civilians and soldiers alike and so amount to a war crime. The Saudi-Emirati claim that the blockade’s sole purpose is to stanch the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis is nonsense, nor can it be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, even .though it was instituted after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at the airport in the Saudi capital The Tramp administration is assisting Saudi Arabia in its bombing of Yemen, creating—in concert with the Saudi embargo—a humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East’s poorest country. Civilians are dying, and what infrastructure the country has is being destroyed.

 

America today serves the same purpose the Soviet Union, or the International Communist Conspiracy, served from the end of World War II until 1989-91, when the Soviet empire collapsed. America is the all-purpose arch enemy on which virtually any evil can be blamed. So the war party and its Saudi and Israeli allies tell us every day that America is on the march, controlling capitals throughout the Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and now Sana’a.

 

Of course Washington has been killing Yemenis with drones—since 2001, causing extensive civilian casualties. As we should know by now, U.S. intervention is no innocent mistake.

 

Almost every economic, climatic and demographic problem that a country can face, Yemen is facing. Fifty percent of the population are under the age of 15, so there will be a generation of young men growing up without jobs or opportunities. I think the story that is most important, however, and one that the media is not concentrating on, is the impending water shortage. By 2020, the capital could well be out of water and within the next decade we could have millions of people without water.

 

There are a lot of natural factors, but the main cause is that in the 60s and 70s the UN got involved in the way that Yemen collected its water. Those methods mainly consisted of collecting rainwater and storing it. The UN said, “Don’t do that, it’s not going to work”—even though it had worked for thousands of years—and instead encouraged them to tap into the underground water tables. This quickly became a matter of whoever was richest digging the deepest and draining water for their own use.

 

The inherent corruption in Yemen, combined with the good but ultimately misplaced intentions of improving water collection by the UN, has drained the water tables much faster than anyone could have imagined.

 

Yet with so many armed groups and international governments involved, as well as a lucrative weapons trade at stake, striking a peace deal has seemed completely out of reach – until now. Some appalling numbers document the anguish Yemenis have endured. Saudi and Emirati warplanes officially have killed — and it’s considered a conservative estimate — 6,475 civilians and wounded more than 10,000 others since 2015. Targets struck have included farms, homes, marketplaces, hospitals, schools, and mosques, as well as ancient historic sites in Sana’a. And such incidents haven’t been one-off attacks. They have happened repeatedly.

 

By April 2018, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted 17,243 airstrikes across Yemen, hitting 386 farms, 212 schools, 183 markets, and 44 mosques. Such statistics make laughable the repeated claims of the Saudis and their allies that such “incidents” should be chalked up to understandable errors and that they take every reasonable precaution to protect innocents. Statistics compiled by the independent Yemen Data Project make it clear that the Gulf monarchs don’t lie awake at night lamenting the deaths of Yemeni civilians.

 

In recent years, opposition to the war in Congress has been on the rise, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna playing prominent roles in mobilizing it. But such congressional critics had no effect on Obama’s war policy and are unlikely to sway Trump’s. They face formidable barriers. The mainstream narrative on the war remains powerful, while the Gulf monarchies continue to buy vast quantities of American weaponry. And don’t forget the impressive, money-is-no-object Saudi-Emirati lobbying operation in Washington.

 

That, then, is the context for the Pentagon’s gentle warning about the limits of U.S. support for the bombing campaign in Yemen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent certification, as required by Congress, that the Saudis and Emiratis were taking perfectly credible action to lower civilian casualties — without which the U.S. military could not continue refueling their planes. (Mattis “endorsed and fully supported” Pompeo’s statement.) As the fifth anniversary of this appalling war approaches, American-made arms and logistical aid remain essential to it.

 

Consider President Trump’s much-ballyhooed arms sales to the Saudis, even if they don’t total $100 billion (as he claimed): Why then would the Saudi and Emirati monarchs worry that the White House might actually do something like cutting off those lucrative sales or terminating the back-end support for their bombing campaign?

 

In June 2018, ignoring U.S. opposition, the Saudi coalition heightened the risk to Yemeni civilians yet more by launching an offensive (“Golden Victory”) to capture the port of Hodeida.

 

Saudi and Emirati airpower and warships supported Emirati and Sudanese troops on the ground joined by allied Yemeni militias. The advance, however, quickly stalled in the face of Houthi resistance, though only after at least 50,000 families had fled Hodeida and basic services for the remaining 350,000 were disrupted, creating fears of a new outbreak of cholera.
While the international community works toward a solution, 14 million Yemenis are staring down the barrel of famine.
“Any restrictions on imports, any restrictions on the movement of aid workers will only spiral Yemen further into the abyss,” says Sherin Varkey of UNICEF.
The only way forward for Yemen is a political solution to the conflict.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors.