Last week, a Médecins sans Frontières hospital in northern Yemen was bombed by the Saudi-American coalition, destroying the only hospital where Yemenis from the surrounding local area could go for aid and health care. However, despite the controversial nature of the strike it was given little to no airtime on news outlets, and highlights a much larger point; the lack of attention the Yemeni Civil War receives. In this era, where news is accessible 24 hours a day through a variety of mediums, how is it possible for such suffering to go unnoticed and unreported?
When the war broke out in March earlier this year, the war was tracked attentively by all the major news channels and papers. Yet, as it continued and evolved into somewhat of a stalemate between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni forces loyal to President Hadi (the UN recognized president), coverage diminished to the point of non-existence, despite the plight of the Yemeni people.
The initial reporting focused on Saudi Arabia’s military campaigns in the country and the Houthis advances towards Sana’a, the capital city. However, the news coverage failed to report on the devastating reality the violence caused for Yemen’s citizens. Rather than focusing on what was quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis, news outlets turned their attention to the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and a struggle for power within the Middle East.
Yemen remains the Arab world’s poorest country, and so the humanitarian situation that it currently resides in is catastrophic. Of a population of 26.7 million people, 21 million are considered in need of aid by the United Nations, a further 12.9 million are considered food insecure and 20 million are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. To make matters worse, the US and British backed Saudi blockade of cargo ships means that very little aid is even entering the country, let alone being distributed.
In addition to the humanitarian situation, 4,800 people have been killed of which 2,112 were civilians; startling numbers to be ignored by the world’s press and European governments, and so the question remains; why has the Yemeni Civil War been forgotten?
Unlike the Syrian Civil War, there is no refugee crisis affecting Europe caused by the instability in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has built a 930-mile fence along its border with Yemen, and this combined, with the blockade of ports in the country, means that the potential for the Yemeni people to flee the country is limited – a significant contrast from the situation in Syria. Thousands are fleeing Syria each day, some to neighboring Arab countries such as Jordan and Turkey, but many of them to European shores, thus making immigration an extremely divisive and hot topic throughout the continent. As a result, governments are much more inclined to donate money to try to solve the Syrian crisis, especially after the recent EU emergency summit on the issue.
Last year the British Government donated £55 million to help Yemen, compared to £1.1 billion over the last three years to Syrian related NGOs. Surely this disparity in amounts is evidence of the varying commitments to finding long-lasting solutions in the two countries?
It is not only the aid donations that you have to question when assessing the Government’s role in the Yemeni crisis. The British government has assumed a relatively ambiguous position, as it continues to donate financial aid to NGOs whilst allowing Saudi Arabia to use bombs, produced in Britain, as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis. This is despite the condemnation from the UN and various other human rights groups about the legality of the bombing, considering the civilian death toll.
Personally, I cannot understand how the British Government can criticise Assad’s well-documented bombing campaign in Syria, where numerous war crimes against civilians have been committed, whilst supporting Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen where similar crimes have occurred. It appears to be a hypocritical approach that prioritises diplomatic relations over preserving the lives of those most at risk, and in need. Rather than acting on a moral level, the Government has done what it sees to be strategically advantageous to preserve the diplomatic relations it has in the region.
As the Middle East continues to struggle with instability, it has to be the role of developed countries governments, such as the UK, to shoulder the burden of providing aid, without prejudice. Yemen has to be treated in the same manner that Syria, or any other humanitarian crisis has been, regardless of the political affiliations of the various governments.