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The forgotten crisis in Yemen

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

While a large part of the world is still struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and is forced to curb social contact, a relentless war is still raging in Yemen. It’s been five years since Saudi Arabia launched the illegal war of aggression against its southern neighbour; the Saudi kingdom is still supported by the NATO countries USA, France and Great Britain.

It has been estimated that more than 200 000 people have been killed since the war began. However, the number of unreported cases is likely to be much larger. There is little trace of an intact infrastructure in Yemen, a country who was already one of the poorest in the world before the war started in March 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It is all the more surprising that comparatively little is reported about it in the West, although the western NATO countries the USA, France and Great Britain are arguably largely to blame for the conditions there. The airstrikes carried out with Eurofighters and Mk-80 bombs resulted in the killing of innocent civilians and the destruction of schools and hospitals. The Guardian reported that hospitals and doctors in Yemen have been attacked by the warring parties of the conflict at least 120 times (between March 2015 and December 2018). It is also European armaments groups that benefit from the war. However, Western reporting on the country’s situation is poor. The International humanitarian law is being ignored by all warring parties.

Epidemics, plagues and famine

Climate change created ideal conditions for the spread of desert locusts in the Horn of Africa, which is why numerous African countries have been struggling with massive locust plagues since 2019. The insects have also spread to the Arabian Peninsula, causing Yemen to be affected by another crisis. Controlling the swarms of desert grasshoppers under the current war conditions might be a physical impossibility. As a result, the famine increases even further, as the insects attack the harvested areas, which are already poor in the desert country. Previously, Saudi Arabia already imposed a comprehensive naval blockade, which also led to the suffering of the population from hunger. Yemen is heavily dependent on the import of food.

The poor country has also been struggling with large waves of pandemics. According to figures from the World Health Organization, almost 1.7 million suspected cholera cases were reported in April 2019. The German doctor Götz Gerresheim who is working for “Doctors Without Borders” also reported in an interview about a large number of patients with multi-resistant germs, whereas antibiotics are ineffective. This type of infection inevitably leads to the death of the patients.

The Business with war

The health system in Yemen is far from ready to start advanced preparations for a pandemic. Hospitals that are supplied with electricity are already a rarity. Both of the warring parties (the Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebel army, who are occupying the capital Sana’a in the north) have reportedly violated international humanitarian law by repeatedly attacking health care infrastructure and medical professionals.

Said AlDailami, the former officer of the German Armed Forces of Yemeni origin, is describing in his book “Yemen: The Forgotten War” how Saudi Arabia spent approximately 200 million U.S. dollar on each day of the war in Yemen. The expenditure applies for 2015. In total, this is about 100 billion U.S. dollar a year. AlDailami refers to estimates from the American Woodrow Wilson Research Center. One cannot imagine how the state of the country would have been like if the kingdom had used these billions of dollars for aid projects instead of war.

The United Nations and its global partners have called recently for 2.41 billion U.S. dollar to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Yemen. However, international donors raised just 1.35 billion U.S. dollar, which is only a little bit more than half of the funds needed. To make matters worse, the UK has recently announced to resume the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The argumentation from the UK is that Saudi airstrikes, which violated international law, have been just “isolated incidents”. Contradicting this, there was an announcement from the British Defense Department a few days after the above-mentioned statement revealing that it has logged more than 500 Saudi airstrikes in Yemen “in possible breach of international law”. It is shocking how easy it seems to be able to raise enormous sums of money for the export of arms, while there is no necessary aid to protect the needy population.

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