Saudi allies face pressure to address famine in Yemen
Western powers profit from kingdom’s offensive while 20 million Yemenis require aid
A Yemeni student inspects the site of alleged Saudi-led air strikes at a memorial of Egyptian soldiers, in Sana’a, Yemen. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
Yemen faces “apocalypse now” unless the war devastating the country and punishing its citizens is halted. After 1,000 days of Saudi-coalition air strikes, UN emergency co-ordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick has issued this dire warning with the aim of pressing allies of Saudi Arabia to deal with the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis”, which threatens to become the “worst famine in 50 years” if the Saudi blockade of Hodeida port is not lifted.
In comments included in a prepared statement and in an interview with the BBC, McGoldrick dismissed Saudi claims that Yemeni rebels were smuggling arms through the port . He said a UN verification mechanism dealing with arriving ships had “never found any weapons”.
He said 20 million Yemenis, out of a population of 28 million, required humanitarian assistance; of this number 10 million were trapped in conflict zones where there needed to be a pause in fighting to permit the delivery of relief supplies.
The Saudi blockade tightened after a missile fired by Houthi rebels was intercepted near the kingdom’s capital on November 4th. A second missile was also destroyed on December 19th.
Although international pressure has compelled Riyadh to permit the entry of fuel and food, there needs to an uninterrupted flow of supplies through Hodeida port, which formerly handled 70 per cent of goods for a country 90 per cent dependent on imports.
In addition to starvation, Yemenis face malaria, dengue fever, diphtheria, and cholera – one million cases of which have already been reported – and Saudi-coalition air strikes. In January this year McGoldrick stated civilian deaths from the conflict had reached 10,000; the toll since then has not been revealed.
The Yemen Data Project – an independent data collection project aimed at collecting and disseminating data on the conduct of the war in Yemen – has said nearly one-third of Saudi-coalition air strikes have hit schools, hospitals, mosques and infrastructure.
Of 15,489 air raids conducted from March 26th, 2015, to December 15th, 2017, 386 struck farms, 212 schools, 183 marketplaces, 44 historical buildings and 44 mosques, the project said.
Houthi rebels seized control of much of Yemen in late 2014 after Saudi-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, cut fuel subsidies and postponed elections and negotiations over a new constitution. Riyadh accuses the Houthis of being proxies for Shia Iran, the Sunni Saudis’ regional rival.
This is the cover story. The conflict is, in fact, a particularly brutal episode in a centuries-old feud between Saudi desert tribesmen and Yemeni heirs of an ancient civilisation. Recent military defeats by Houthi fighters, based in the north of Yemen, have prompted the Saudis to launch their campaign against the entire country.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights organisations argue the US, Britain and France, Saudi Arabia’s chief suppliers of weaponry, are at risk of being complicit in war crimes in Yemen.
The US, Britain and France became parties to the Saudi-led campaign during its first weeks by deploying officers to the Saudi air force command centre where they have access to lists of targets. According to MS&T magazine, French pilots “flew reconnaissance missions over Houthi positions for the benefit of the Saudi client and kept on training its fighter pilots”.
The US dispatched refuelling aircraft for Saudi bombing missions and provided intelligence, fuel tankers, munitions and military helicopters. During his visit to Riyadh in May, Donald Trump promised to sell Saudi Arabia $110 billion (€91bn) in weapons, aircraft, and munitions over the next decade.
As part of this deal, Saudi Arabia is set to receive $7 billion worth of precision-guided missiles from US firms. Human Rights Watch has documented unlawful attacks in which US arms were used.
The supply of British-made bombs, arms, and war planes to Saudi Arabia has risen by nearly 500 per cent to £4.6 billion (€5.2bn) since start of the Saudi offensive. From 2010-2016, France sold €9 billion of weaponry adapted to Middle East warfare to Saudi Arabia, amounting to 15-20 per cent of France’s annual arms exports. France stepped up deliveries of weaponry to Saudi Arabia and its allies after March 2015.
Amnesty has called on “all countries [to] immediately halt the flow of army and military assistance to members of the Saudi-led coalition for use in Yemen. This includes any equipment or logistical support being used to maintain [Riyadh’s] blockade.”