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Don’t Forget Yemen

Five years of war and humanitarian catastrophe have made Yemen more vulnerable than any other country in the world.

As the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S.-backed war on Yemen approaches, Shireen al-Adeimi sounds the alarm about the what the spread of coronavirus would mean for the country if it comes there:

If coronavirus were to be detected in Yemen, the country experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis would face challenges above and beyond any other nation in the world today. Simply put, it would spell complete destruction to a population that is already dying, starving, facing illness, and being terrorized by five years of U.S. and Saudi bombings.

In addition to there not being enough coronavirus reagents in Yemen—which are crucial to testing the disease—Dr. Jumaan notes that most of the population lacks access to drinking water: “How can they wash their hands with their scarce water?” she asks, adding that Saudi bombing has targeted water systems in Yemen and there’s not enough fuel to operate water plants that could still be functional.

As for the ability to test and treat any cases of coronavirus, Dr. Jumaan sounds a clear and dire alarm: “They do not have the capacity to test large numbers of people. They don’t have chemicals for disinfectants. Face masks are highly expensive, if available at all. They cannot test or isolate [people]. They do not have equipment. They do not have ventilators. There’s nothing that they have to even make them deal with this at 10% capacity.”

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been the worst in the world for years, and tens of millions of lives were already in jeopardy from famine and preventable disease. Now there is a possibility that the country could also be ravaged by the pandemic that is affecting much of the rest of the world, and if that were to happen the death toll might be staggeringly high. Like other countries that have been suffering from the destructive effects of economic warfare, Yemen has been subjected to years of blockade, inflation, and mass unemployment. In addition to that, Yemenis have been enduring a cholera epidemic fueled by the destruction of sanitation and water treatment facilities by the bombing campaign. Some 18 million people lack access to clean water, and more than three million are displaced from their homes and many live in camps where conditions are very poor. Malnutrition is widespread, and four-fifths of the population relies on humanitarian aid. Even the wealthiest and theoretically best-prepared countries in the world are struggling with this pandemic, and five years of war and humanitarian catastrophe have made Yemen more vulnerable than any other country in the world.

The Saudi coalition bombing campaign remains as indiscriminate as ever. The Yemen Data Project has released its latest findings that a third of all airstrikes carried out by the Saudi coalition have struck civilian targets:

Nearly a third of all Gulf coalition air raids on Yemen have hit civilian targets including hospitals, schools and food stores, new data has revealed, as the war-ravaged country marks the fifth anniversary of the conflict amid the coronavirus crisis.

Attentive readers will remember that this has been the same percentage of strikes hitting civilian targets throughout the entire war. Supporters of the war in the U.S. have long argued that U.S. support and advice were making coalition bombing more precise, but it is clear that the coalition’s pilots have been consistently hitting civilian targets at the same rate anyway. One reason for this is that many of those targets have been bombed deliberately, and sometimes on multiple occasions. The U.S. has been enabling these war crimes for five straight years, and the administration shows no sign of stopping now.

Human Right Watch has also documented evidence of torture and arbitrary detention of Yemenis by the Saudi government in the east of Yemen in the governorate of al-Mahrah:

Saudi military forces and Saudi-backed Yemeni forces have carried out serious abuses against Yemenis since June 2019 in al-Mahrah, Yemen’s far eastern governorate, Human Rights Watch said today. The abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and illegal transfer of detainees to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi and Saudi-backed forces have arbitrarily arrested demonstrators protesting the presence of Saudi forces, as well as other local residents not connected with the protests, in al-Mahrah’s capital al-Ghaydah, residents told Human Rights Watch. Former detainees said that they were accused of supporting opponents of Saudi Arabia, interrogated, and tortured at an informal detention facility at the city’s airport in which Saudi officers supervise pro-Saudi Yemeni forces. Detainees’ families said that Saudi forces forcibly disappeared at least five detainees for three to five months while illegally transferring them to Saudi Arabia and not providing information on their whereabouts.

Many Yemenis have suffered similar abuse over the years from the coalition’s occupying forces and their proxies. Dozens of Yemenis were detained and tortured in secret UAE-run prisons in south Yemen, and now the Saudi government is “disappearing” and torturing Yemenis that peacefully oppose their military presence. These Yemenis have no government to speak for them because the so-called “legitimate” Yemeni government sits in Riyadh and toes the coalition line, so it is left to activists and journalists to call attention to their plight. These horrific abuses of innocent people will continue as long as the Saudis and their allies know that they can act with impunity in Yemen, and they will assume that they can get away with anything until their Western patrons call them to account for their many outrages.

The very least that the U.S. can do at this time is to stop participating in the destruction of Yemen and to press the Saudi coalition to withdraw from Yemen and observe a ceasefire.



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