The New York Times published a new report on the devastating effects the war on Yemen is having on the civilian population. On the whole, it is a good article, and any coverage of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster is better than none. Nonetheless, even in this report we see how the U.S. enabling role is routinely minimized:
The United States is also a major donor, as well as a primary supplier of arms to the members of the Saudi-led coalition. Although the United States is not directly involved in the conflict [bold mine-DL], it has provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition, and Yemenis have often found the remnants of American-made munitions in the ruins left by deadly airstrikes.
The article fails to mention the U.S. role in refueling coalition jets, which would show that the U.S. is very much directly involved in the coalition’s prosecution of its bombing campaign. U.S. refueling for coalition planes allows them to keep their planes in the air longer and to carry out more attacks than they would otherwise be able to do. Regardless, it isn’t credible to say that providing belligerents on one side of a war with weapons, fuel, and intelligence doesn’t amount to “direct” involvement in that war. Yemenis on the receiving end of the bombing campaign know very well that the U.S. is actively supporting the war that is destroying their country, and our news reports should acknowledge as much.
At another point, the article poses a strange rhetorical question:
How did a country in a region with such great wealth, and under the close watch of the United States and Saudi Arabia, fall so swiftly into crisis?
The answer to that is that Yemen didn’t “fall” into crisis. It was deliberately forced into its present misery through the policy choices of its wealthier regional neighbors and their Western patrons. The wealthy states in the region have been doing this to their neighbor on purpose in an attempt to batter and starve Yemen into submission. Yemen’s multiple, overlapping crises didn’t just happen. The country didn’t accidentally “fall” into anything. It was driven over a cliff by the Saudi-led coalition and their backers in the U.S. and Britain. The article does mention the closure of Sanaa’s international airport as a factor in exacerbating the suffering of Yemenis. Unfortunately, the naval blockade of the country and the coalition’s continued refusal to allow mobile cranes to be brought in to replace the ones that the coalition destroyed and damaged are never mentioned.
To get an even clearer picture of what the war has done to the civilian population, I recommend watching and reading Nawal al-Maghafi’s new report about conditions in Yemen. Here she talks briefly about what people there were telling her during her latest visit (begins around 12:00). Here she sums up the role of the blockade and coalition policy in creating near-famine conditions:
A blockade imposed on Yemen since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition has reduced the amount of food, aid and fuel allowed into the country to a trickle.
The little that does make it in by sea often spends weeks waiting to be offloaded because the cranes at Hudaydah – once Yemen’s busiest port – have 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, they were stopped at sea by the coalition and refused entry.
Even when food and medicine are able to make it through, the blockade has made them so expensive that most people cannot afford them. Many families are faced with a terrible, impossible choice between providing medicine for cholera-stricken children or buying food. Oxfam recently reported on this:
Oxfam has spoken to many families who have to rely on selling their personal belongings and going into debt to buy food and pay for cholera treatment. Seeking medical treatment is often the last resort, and many only do so when it is already too late. Millions of people are struggling to buy enough to eat and those who are then hit by cholera are only able to afford the costs of transportation, medicine and doctor’s fees by further reducing the amount of food they buy.
Al-Maghafi’s report opens with a haunting quote from David Beasley of the World Food Programme that drives home the severity and urgency of the crisis:
If something’s not done soon, literally hundreds of thousands of children will die.
That is the appalling reality of this indefensible war. The governments that created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis have it within their power to stop making things worse and to alleviate at least some of their suffering they have caused, but before that can happen their responsibility has to be widely understood and they have to face sustained pressure to change their policies.
Al-Maghafi concludes her report:
What is most heart-breaking about Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe is that it is completely and needlessly man-made.
All the suffering we witnessed was completely preventable and could be stopped within days if the political will – by the warring factions and their supporters abroad – was there to do so.
In the meantime, as international diplomacy continues to fail Yemenis, their lives will – unimaginably – only get worse.