The devastating war in Yemen hasn’t been forgotten, an aid worker says, ‘it’s been ignored’
· CBC News
Clarion calls for action on the tragedy that is Yemen sound almost daily from the beleaguered but dedicated community of aid workers stationed on the front lines of what is widely acknowledged as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
And yet the conflict struggles to make itself heard or felt much beyond the troubled region within which it lives, tucked away at the southern end of the Red Sea and just across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa.
“Often people say that this is a forgotten war,” said Save the Children’s Nadine Drummond, speaking via Skype from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa earlier this week. “No. This war hasn’t been forgotten. It’s been ignored.”
The statistics are staggering:
- 2/3 of the population dependent on aid.
- Eight million people on the verge of starvation.
- 400,000 severely malnourished children.
The conflict began in 2014, when the Houthis swept down from along Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia to capture Sanaa, ousting President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi from the capital with the help of forces loyal to his predecessor.
Saudi Arabia started bombing a year later in support of the ousted government, leading a 10-nation-strong coalition against the Houthis, who are Zaidi, a minority Shia sect.
The conflict has since developed into another of the Middle East’s brutal proxy wars, with most Western governments backing the Saudi coalition, and Iran backing and supplying the Houthis.
Experts say much more pain and suffering is inevitable if Western governments don’t act more decisively to force a ceasefire, especially with the battle for the city of Hodeidah imminent.
Its seaport accounts for 69 per cent of Yemen’s food imports and nearly 40 per cent of its fuel — which is key to keeping water pumps moving and cholera at bay.
“The U.S. government, the U.K. government and the French government. Those are the countries that have the ability to influence what happens on the ground,” said Drummond. “And so far they’ve either failed to act or have decided that it’s not within their own benefit.”
Western arms suppliers
Critics say that’s because the Western trio are major arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members fighting the Houthi rebels that control much of Yemen’s north, so they can’t pretend to be honest brokers.
“Britain has a very close security and commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said British Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell from his office in London.
“They are a very close ally of ours. And of course Saudi Arabia is a wealthy country surrounded by enemies in the region, and it’s therefore quite difficult for Britain to act as a candid friend and to tell them they need to be a promoter of peace rather than a supporter of the conflict there.”
Mitchell, a former international development minister, said one of the U.K.’s draft resolutions on Yemen was rejected at the UN “because it was so one-sided.”
In April, the UN’s special envoy on Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said a Saudi coalition offensive against Hodeidah would “take peace off the table.”
But the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a ceasefire resolution, managing only to urge all sides to uphold their obligations under humanitarian law.
The United Arab Emirates has been leading coalition troops on the ground. Made up mainly of Yemeni fighters and mercenaries, the force advanced along the Red Sea coast from the south to capture Hodeidah’s airport earlier this week.
Their plan is reportedly to take control of the port in the north by moving around the city inland without having to battle street to street through the centre, where Houthi fighters have been fortifying their positions.