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Yemen: a tragic tale of humanitarian hypocrisy

Humanitarian crises around the world will fail to be resolved if the providers of aid are also the perpetrators of the conflict.

Anastasia Kyriacou
10 September 2017
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Funeral for victims of a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa. Hani Al-Ansi/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.“Dozens killed in Yemen floods” read the headlines last week, just when you thought things could not get any worse for a country that is enduring what has been recognised as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  

The Arab world’s poorest state has been enduring a bloody civil war since 2015, heavily compounded by the world’s largest cholera outbreak. The nation has been bombed ruthlessly by the warring parties, with the Saudi-led coalition backing government forces in their fight against Houthi rebels. These extreme circumstances have had catastrophic results.

Yemen is facing a triple tragedy: the spectre of famine, the world’s largest cholera outbreak and daily deprivation and injustice. The seasonal flooding combined with a heatwave has led to an increase in the rate of cholera infection since mid-August.

Serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are being committed with impunity. The Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes that have killed and injured thousands, targeting schools, markets, hospitals and homes, while Houthi rebels have indiscriminately shelled civilian residential areas. Child soldiers are being recruited, human rights activists are routinely oppressed.

Lack of humanitarian access

Where help is needed most, it is becoming increasingly less available. Instead, humanitarian aid is being used as a weapon by the warring parties, as opposed to its intended function of peace. The suffering of civilians is being exacerbated by the restriction of humanitarian assistance. Aid agencies such as the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation are limited to where they can distribute aid.

The international airport in Sanaa has been kept closed by the Saudi-led coalition for over a year now, preventing the delivery of food and medical supplies inland, and also stopping sick and wounded Yemenis from being treated abroad.

Hudaydah, Yemen’s busiest port, has been bombed beyond use or repair. When new cranes were donated by the US government to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) last December to deliver food aid, they were stopped at sea by the coalition and refused entry which further placed hundreds of Yemeni children’s lives at risk.

The restricted access to aid has aggravated and continues to provoke a rapidly deteriorating situation, and, to cap it all, over 300,000 health workers haven’t been paid their salaries in over 10 months.

Donor hypocrisy

Behind the biggest aid donors are the very facilitators of the conflict; a western-backed Saudi bombing campaign is accountable for the majority of damage being done.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman donated $66.7 million in aid this year to respond to the outbreak of cholera in Yemen.

The US provides the Saudis with air-to-air refuelling and intelligence used for airstrikes and a bulk of their weapons. In May this year the two nations signed an arms deal amounting to almost $110 billion.

Meanwhile in Britain, the government approved £283 million of arms sales to Saudi Arabia just six months following the Saudi airstrike on a funeral which killed 140 people and injured hundreds more. Since the beginning of the Yemeni bombing campaign in 2015, the UK has licensed over £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi forces.

The impact this has had so far is deeply alarming*:

  • 540,00 Yemeni’s are infected with cholera, 2,000 of which have died  

  • 3/4 of Yemen’s 27 million population require humanitarian assistance

  • 2.9 million are internally displaced by both conflict and natural disasters

  • 17 million people are severely food insecure, seven million on the brink of famine

2/3 don’t know where their next meal is coming from

  • Half a million children under five are suffering severe acute malnutrition

When the Saudis are responsible for 65% more deaths of children than Houthis and the starvation induced by their blockade as collective punishment, the US and UK’s arms sales to them makes both these countries complicit in this devastating crisis.

The UN says $2.3 billion is needed by Yemen in humanitarian aid this year, only 41% of which has been funded. But what good even is humanitarian aid when the very suppliers are also fuelling the fire causing the need for aid in the first place?

Nicholas Rutherford, Director of AidEx, of the world’s leading platforms for international aid and development professionals remarked: “at home the western world honours themselves as champions of democracy inclusive of human rights values, while being agents of human rights violators abroad. The concept is simple: humanitarian crises around the world will fail to be resolved if the providers of aid are also the perpetrators.”

To curtail the conflict in Yemen, arms sales to Saudi Arabia must be stopped immediately, access to ports, land, sea and air must be accessible for civilian and aid assistance mobility, and most importantly, the direct perpetrators and facilitators of this devastating human catastrophe should be held accountable. If action is not taken to stop the wave of atrocities, Yemen may reach a point of no return.

*Statistics from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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