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Starving Yemen

Why did the world tolerate the Saudi bombing and blockade of its neighbour?

Starving Yemen

Dear All,

As far as wars and ‘interventions’ go, the conflict in Yemen has received relatively little media attention over the past three years.

A civil war and power struggle between different sectarian groups has meant the conflict has turned into another proxy war involving Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But the level of cruelty and destruction enacted by Saudi Arabia upon this country has perhaps never been witnessed in this region in modern times. Even Saddam Hussain’s much publicised Halabja gassing of the Kurds in 1988 pales in comparison to what the Saudis have done to Yemen.

After three years of this cruelty, the US congress finally discussed the matter last week and came up with a naive ‘nobody told me’ sort of statement saying that it “had not authorised war in Yemen”.

The country’s population is now mostly starving and no aid has been able to get in because of a Saudi blockade. Skeletal children are being kept (marginally) alive in specially designated ‘feeding centres’, and families have to choose which of their many starving children to take to the centre. And a cholera epidemic is sweeping through the land while the blockade keeps medicines and supplies from reaching the sick and vulnerable.

But now slightly more attention is being paid to Yemen’s plight after the recent UN warning that the country faced massive famine if the blockade was not lifted (UN humanitarian flights were cancelled earlier this month). Since then, the UN has been urging the ‘Saudi coalition’ to reopen Yemen ports. The coalition’s bombing of Sanaa airport was not terribly helpful either.

Whether or not the Saudis succumb to international pressures and partially lift the blockade, the fact remains that they have already destroyed and starved their neighbour — and the world has stood by and watched.

Apparently, this sort of behaviour is perfectly in line with western democratic norms and no Arab Spring was needed in KSA. Otherwise, why has this been tolerated by the champions of democracy in the West?

After three years of this cruelty, the US congress finally discussed the matter last week and came up with a naive ‘nobody told me’ sort of statement saying that it “had not authorised war in Yemen”.

Meanwhile, the British government has so far not paid any attention to the criticisms being voiced of its arms dealings with Saudi Arabia, and the accusations that British bombs were used by the Saudis on their neighbour. These criticisms of the defence relationship between KSA and the UK are nothing new; yet somehow the lack of attention to these criticisms indicate that the government considers it perfectly okay   to supply and tolerate a completely undemocratic and despotic monarchy that treats its women like property, and bombs and starves its neighbours. It’s likely that the UK, like the USA and the UN, will have many more discussions and issue more statements about the siege and the famine over the next few days. It will probably say a great deal but do nothing much to actually force the Saudis to end the siege or the bombing.

Many brave correspondents have travelled to this war zone; their dispatches describe a horrific situation. Their reports are harrowing and heartbreaking. Yet despite these reports, countries in the western bloc have been strangely cowed down by the Saudis and have failed to stop the fighting.

What I find truly mindboggling is that this barbaric situation exists in the 21st century. A country is being systematically starved, yet the level of outrage has not been proportionate to the level of destruction. Plus, it’s not been considered worth giving it the ‘band aid’ treatment yet by doing a fundraising concert at an international level.

Yemen, home to an ancient civilisation and many architectural splendours, has been forgotten by the world. Occasional statements by human rights organisations have done nothing to relieve the hunger, starvation and misery of Yemenis. Instead, we simply watch as this drama of death and destruction unfolds before our eyes.

Is this the face of this age of progress: our 21st century?

Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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