Proximity and novelty are two fundamental elements of making a subject newsworthy. The refugees crisis in Europe, and related to it, the situation in Syria, or the upcoming election in the United States, seem to dominate the headlines these days. However, another important element to newsworthiness is impact or consequences. On this criteria alone, possibly the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment should definitely capture our attention, but it is not. Maybe we are a bit too “used” to hear about conflict in the Middle Est, or maybe it’s too far to care.
But someone should care. The parties involved in the conflict in Yemen are completely ignoring the international humanitarian law. Densely populated residential areas and well as civilian objectives such as roads, bridges, petrol stations, hospitals, and schools are being attacked. Despite the principles of neutrality and impartiality governing the work of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), their office in Aden, south of Yemen, was attacked several times and, last week, two of their staff were shot and killed whilst travelling in a clearly marked convoy in the north of the country.
“Disregard for human life on the part of all parties continues, with attacks on residential areas and civil infrastructure having a disproportionate impact on the lives of ordinary people in Yemen.”
Mr. Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said in an address to the UN Security Council on 19 August 2015.
This crisis is worth noticing because Yemeni women, children and men found themselves in the middle of a conflict they did not ask for, with foreign armed forces (a Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab States) launching attacks on their sovereign country while the international community is not only looking away but also allowing the conflict to escalate.
Yemen is a beautiful country. It became a country in 1990 when North and South Yemen unified, with Ali Abdullah Saleh, former president of North Yemen becoming the president of the Republic of Yemen, while the south leader became Vice-President. However, constant conflict has affected the country ever since, contributing to the poverty and sense of insecurity of the population. In 2012 Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, from the south, was elected and sworn in as President. Religion-wise, while 99.1% of Yemeni are Muslim, based on a 2010 estimate 65% of them are Sunni and 35% are Shia.
The sudden resignation of Mr. Hadi this year allowed the rebels, a group called Houthis, belonging to Shia tribesmen in the north of Yemen, loyal to the former president Saleh and backed up by the Shia-majority Iran, to seize the moment, take charge of Sana’a, the capital, and advance to the south. The ousted president, recognised by the UN Security Council as the country’s leader asked for help from the Sunni-majority neighbours. Saudi Arabia, backed by United Stated and United Kingdom, took the opportunity to fight against Shia rebels and formed a coalition with Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Coalition has carried out airstrikes as well as ground operations in Yemen since March 2015 and recently gained control of the southern city of Aden.
UN Human Rights Office estimates that since the escalation of the conflict there have been 6,631 civilian casualties, including 2,112 civilian deaths, and 4,519 wounded. Amnesty International released a report last month, documenting
“hundreds of cases of civilians, many of them children and women, killed or injured while asleep in their homes or going about their daily activities – fetching water, buying food, visiting relatives.”
Despite the outcry of NGOs and United Nations, nothing seems to be able to stop the Coalition’s attacks. After 60 of their soldiers were killed last week by a rebel missile attack, Al Jazeera reports that Qatar is preparing to deploy 1,000 troops to fight in Yemen.
According to UN Agencies, four out of five Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, with millions of people being internally displaced, food insecure, lacking access to clean water and healthcare.
It is hard to see what is worse: the fact that the international community allowed for this to happen or the fact that there is no concrete answer as to how this situation will be addressed?
The humanitarian crisis escalated primarily due to:
- The destruction by both rebels and Saudi-coalition of ports and airports, roads and bridges isolating cities and community and making it impossible for food or medical aid to reach them. Moreover, the destruction of civilian objectives such as petrol stations or dams limited the access to fuel, electricity and clean water.
- The arm embargo imposed by the Security Council in April 2015 (Resolution 2216) became a de facto embargo of all naval transport, making it almost impossible for humanitarian agencies to deliver aid.
Perhaps an important challenge is that there is almost no money for aid. Only 18% of the 1.6 billion dollars requested by UN for the Yemen humanitarian response plan has been received. The 274 million dollars pledged by Saudi Arabia in April have yet to be disbursed, and even if they are, the need is so much greater than what has been raised. In a contradictive act, the countries in the region, while spending considerable amounts to participate in the conflict, are also providing some humanitarian assistance. According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the US, King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre provided medical supply, infant formula and other relief goods to Yemen. The Emirates Red Crescent has recently launched a fundraising campaign, Yemen: We care, aiming to help 10 million people affected by the crisis. But these efforts, while important, are far from being enough or a solution.
With the conflict escalating, maybe the Saudi Coalition will succeed and take back from the rebels Sana’a and the north. But at what cost? President Hadi will find himself governing over a country at the verge of collapse. The alternative? A territory split between rebels, forces loyal to president Hadi, ISIS and Al Qaeda cells.
Women, children and men are being killed, indiscriminately, by attacks or by the lack of access to food, water or medicine. Sites with thousand years of history are being destroyed, and although diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement between the parties and implement a peace plan have failed so far, this is most certainly the only viable option. Most importantly, it has to come soon. It has to come before Yemeni people lose the last glimpse of hope that they can to rebuild their lives.
To learn more:
ReliefWeb GLOBAL EMERGENCY OVERVIEW, September 2015:
ForeignPolicy.com: The Human Carnage of Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen