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Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis and the Failure of Western Media

When media coverage obscures or ignores the real causes of the crisis and portrays the people responsible for starving Yemen as well-meaning humanitarians, it helps the propaganda efforts of some of the world's worst governments.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the most important story in the world, but it rarely receives the coverage that such a massive crisis ought to have. When it is covered in Western papers, the reporting often omits key details and fails to inform readers of what has been happening. For example, today’s article in The Wall Street Journal makes it sound as if the Saudi-led coalition is trying its best to provide assistance to the people that it has been starving for three years:

Saudi Arabia and its allies are giving $1.5 billion to their war-ravaged neighbor, but their ability to fix the country’s humanitarian crisis is limited by their status as combatants—and because many aid groups are reluctant to take their money.

I would suggest that their “ability to fix” the crisis is limited even more by their deliberate effort to create that crisis as a way of starving Yemen into submission. The presumption of Saudi good intentions that runs throughout the article is baffling in light of the coalition’s ongoing blockade and their willingness to impose collective punishment on the civilian population. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the Saudis have been getting more credulous coverage of their “aid” efforts after they launched their latest public relations campaign, but that still doesn’t fully account for the failure to report the responsibility of the Saudis and their allies for their part in creating what could be the worst humanitarian crisis in half a century. U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war effort is also never mentioned at any point in the article.

The report takes at face value that the blockade is concerned only with preventing “an Iranian lifeline from reaching the Houthis,” but this ignores the previously reported facts that the coalition has stopped and diverted shipments of food and medicine that were already cleared by the U.N. verification mechanism. If there is weapons smuggling into Yemen, it wasn’t and isn’t happening on the cargo ships that deliver essential goods to the population, but that hasn’t stopped the coalition from strangling Yemen’s people and economy for years anyway. This was made clear when the coalition tightened the blockade last November. That tightening of the blockade is another detail that doesn’t appear in this report.

Why might aid groups be reluctant to take money from the governments responsible for causing much of the suffering of the civilian population? Could it be that they don’t trust those governments? Could it be that they don’t want to become part of the coalition’s cynical abuse of humanitarian relief? Could it be that they don’t want to become targets by associating themselves with the governments bombing and starving Yemen? I think it could. If this article were all one had to go by, one would never know that the coalition has been delaying and diverting aid deliveries for years or that the coalition blockade is the main cause of bringing more than eight million people to the brink of famine. Indeed, the words blockade and famine never appear once in the article, and there is no acknowledgment that the coalition bears the largest responsibility for causing what could prove to be the worst famine in decades.

Aid groups working in the country have no confidence in the Saudis’ “aid efforts” and have criticized the coalition for continuing to keep the biggest port of Hodeidah closed to commercial shipping. The article vaguely alludes to this, but doesn’t directly address it:

A new Saudi coalition aid plan unveiled in January includes additional capacity at ports in coalition-controlled areas, but offers no assistance at Houthi entry points, particularly the Hodeida port on the Red Sea.

The issue is not that the coalition doesn’t offer “assistance” for the ports that are not under its control, but that it is very deliberately preventing commercial shipping from using those ports. The Norwegian Refugee Council addressed this in an article published on their website today:

The Saudi-led coalition’s continued restrictions on imports at Hodeida Port, Yemen’s largest, are having a particularly detrimental effect on the humanitarian situation, NRC said. The coalition imposed a complete blockade in November 2017. While the coalition has eased the blockade on Hodeida Port for two consecutive periods of 30-days since December 20, uncertainty around the operation of the port together with ongoing bureaucratic hurdles have reduced the confidence of shipping companies in using Yemen’s Red Sea ports. Based on data from the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM), NRC calculates that fuel imports have constituted only 32% of the estimated amount required this year so far.

“Yemen’s 29 million people can’t survive on humanitarian aid alone,” van Meegen said. “When the coalition chokes imports, they strangle a whole population. More and more people are pushed into aid dependency, more are nudged closer to starvation.”

The WSJ article also fails to mention that Hodeidah is the main port that serves the most heavily populated areas of the country, which seems somewhat relevant when reporting on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis needs a lot more coverage than it is getting, and it is tempting to take whatever we can get, but what we’re getting is simply not good enough. When media coverage obscures or ignores the real causes of the crisis and portrays the people responsible for starving Yemen as well-meaning humanitarians, it helps the propaganda efforts of some of the world’s worst governments and keeps Western publics in the dark about the nature of the war that their governments have been enabling since 2015.



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