Yemen’s Forgotten War: UK to Blame?

Yemen’s Forgotten War: UK to Blame?

This is a forgotten war waging at the expense of civilian communities and innocent livelihoods. The parties held accountable are supplied by arms sold from our very own country. It's time to shine light on the humanitarian crisis.

1. Yemen Is A Forgotten Crisis.

The Middle East has endured a century of ongoing political instability and revolutionary violence. Regrettably, the international community has overlooked devastating conflict in certain Arab states, given the utter turmoil faced by the region as a whole. Yemen, in particular, is a forgotten crisis. A civil war has intensified between the exiled Yemeni government and the ‘Houthi’ anti-government rebels. Little international attention has been paid to the waging conflict crippling the country, and innocent Yemeni civilians are bearing its full, brutal brunt.

A staggering eighty-two percent of the population are in need of humanitarian aid: 13.4 million are deprived of clean drinking water; 8.4 million lack access to healthcare; and 14.4 million are starved of food. Two million children are chronically malnourished, and because the healthcare system is overburdened and under-resourced, vaccine-preventable diseases are contractible and potentially fatal.

Great concern is warranted for the welfare of the civilians and future of the Yemeni state.

2. Both Sides Are Contributing To Inexcusable Bombings And Blockades.

A revolution in Yemen began with the Arab Springs of 2011. By September 2014, anti-government rebels, ‘the Houthis’, overthrew the Saudi-Arabian backed government and took over the Sana’a capital of Yemen. The Houthis, with supposed Iranian support, claim to be enforcing a revolution against corrupt officials of the Saudi-led coalition. Disorder of the state has also given Al Qaeda opportunity to seize and expand territory within the country.

A bombing campaign instigated by the Saudi-led coalition in March 2015 has crippled Yemeni communities for the past thirteen months. Widespread, indiscriminate destruction by airstrikes targeting civilian areas has been relentless. This is an absolute breach of international law. Bombing raids have claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people – half of which are innocent civilians. Airstrikes are responsible for 60% of these deaths. Human Rights Watch has condemned the coalition’s use of cluster munitions, picked up by children on the ground. Over 700 children have been killed as a consequence.

Food insecurity is also a worsening problem. Yemen is the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, which relies on imported goods for 90% of food and all of its medicine and fuel. The Saudi-led coalition has restricted 80% of commercial imports into Yemen contributing to mass starvation. What’s more, Houthi rebels have besieged and denied humanitarian aid into the city of Taiz.

Yemen is a battlefield. War crimes have been committed on all sides.

3. Disease Control And Healthcare Buckle Under Ongoing Conflict.

The health system in Yemen is under enormous strain; emergency admissions have risen 150 percent since escalation of the conflict a year ago. Bombing and blockade of supplies led to the closure of at least 158 medical facilities, and many more are struggling with shortages of electricity, resources and staff. Intensive care units have closed down, while obstetric and surgical services are limited. This has had tragic consequences for individuals with longstanding diseases, such as chronic kidney disease patients dependent on dialysis. Amputations are also common – due to fuel shortages, civilians wounded by bullets and shrapnel are just not arriving to hospitals early enough.

The few healthcare centres that do exist have been targeted by coalition airstrikes, while hospitals in Taiz are looted by the Houthi militia. In three months alone, there have been four attacks on MSF facilities across the country. People are reluctant to come to hospital because of increasing fears of further hospital airstrikes. Attacks on medical facilities have been written off as ‘human errors’ by the coalition; an inexplicable justification for a deplorable assault.

Streets are flooded by sewage, sanitation is poor and clean drinking water is limited. Civilians are collecting dirty drinking water in containers exposed to mosquitoes. The ongoing conflict has made it more difficult to distribute insecticides and conduct vector control and surveillance. This has contributed to 3000 new cases of dengue fever in four months, and the rise in incidences of malaria. Immunisation coverage is also important to prevent an avoidable endemic. WHO has recently established a nationwide programme for polio and measles, since more than 2.6 million children under 15 years are at high risk. A second campaign is needed, but delayed because of ongoing conflict.

4. Are The UK And US To Blame?

Foreign arms sales to Saudi Arabia has fuelled the crisis in Yemen. The US has benefited $4.6bn from selling arms to Saudi Arabia, while the UK has sold £6.7bn worth of weaponry, including £2.8bn since the start of the bombing campaign in March. Last year, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond pledged to support the Saudi effort in “every practical way short of engaging in combat.” There has been no pressure by the British government to expose civilian casualties directly caused by coalition airstrikes. There has been no inquiry into the intended use of sold UK arms. Saudi Arabia has breached international human rights. The UK would do well to suspend all arms licences to the coalition, and seek clarification into targeted attacks across Yemen. As well as breaching EU export laws, the British government will be under scrutiny for the part it has played in the coalition’s systematic targeting of civilian life.

5. A Resolution In Sight?

The scale of civilian suffering in Yemen is incomprehensible. The healthcare system is buckling under persistent attacks and shortages. WHO and other NGOs are struggling to control disease epidemics, provide emergency trauma care and relieve malnourishment. A sustainable political solution through peace talks is essential. It is the responsibility of our international community to recognise the severity of the crisis and restore the economy, health sector, and welfare of the Yemenis. A ceasefire commencing 10th April has been agreed by all parties to the conflict, with a round of peace talks taking place in Kuwait on the 18th April.

This is a forgotten war waging at the expense of civilian communities and innocent livelihoods. The parties held accountable are supplied by arms sold from our very own country. It’s time to shine light on the humanitarian crisis and call for better international cooperation in Yemen.


Christina Tran

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