On the politicisation of hunger – Yemen’s famine is largely artificial

Since war broke in Yemen – late March 2015, the country has walked a treacherous and arduous path, one paved by hunger and disease. More dangerous and cruel than any of the military brutalities Yemen’s warring parties have rained on each other; famine, and its companion, pestilence have mercilessly demanded their fill. 

In 2018 Save the Children reported that over 85,000 children had died since the beginning of the conflict as a direct result of the famine. Since, entire communities have been decimated by hunger, bringing the death toll to dizzying heights. 

In May 2020, UNICEF described Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, and estimated that 80% of the population, over 26 million people, were in need of humanitarian assistance.

By contrast, war has been kinder, somewhat less brutal in its haste to lay waste an entire people.

In late 2019 a UN-commissioned report by the University of Denver, Assessing the Impact of War on Development in Yemen,  confirmed that more Yemenis had died of hunger, disease and the lack of health clinics  than from fighting – an estimated 131,000 people.

War in comparison, if ever there should be such comparison, proved responsible for only 100,000 deaths total – a figure published by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED) which tracks confirmed fatalities of war. 

Today 80% of the country’s 30 million stands before a precipice, a precipice one must add which was not only engineered but exploited for political gains. For all the criticism Saudi Arabia’s war coalition may have faced in the past, little has been said of factions’ efforts  to accentuate, perpetuate, and enforce hunger to better dress themselves in Victimhood and from such lofty platforms, demand political vindication.

Yes war crimes have been committed but the blame is shared across the board, so has been factions desire to thwart the distribution of humanitarian aid and other vital necessities (fuel, medicine etc …) to better play up people’s hardship to their political demographic and present themselves as the grand defenders of Yemen and its people.

A report published by Human Rights Watch back in 2017 lifted the veil on such a reality. It read: “The Saudi-led coalition’s restrictions on imports to Yemen have worsened the dire humanitarian situation of Yemeni civilians. The restrictions, in violation of international humanitarian law, have delayed and diverted fuel tankers, closed a critical port, and stopped life-saving goods for the population from entering seaports controlled by opposing Houthi-Saleh forces.”

And,

Houthi-Saleh forces, who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country, have also violated international legal obligations to facilitate humanitarian aid to civilians and significantly harmed the civilian population. They have blocked and confiscated aid, denied access to populations in need, and restricted the movement of ill civilians and aid workers.”

To put it more plainly Yemen’s many political warlords have exploited the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis to advance their agendas, and while feigning concern before the media, acted as profiteers  behind closed doors. 

Needless to say that covid-19 and the strain the virus has put on Yemen’s ailing medical services has only further served to exacerbate an already dire situation. Yemen is simply dying … warplanes and factions’ canons are not the only factors contributing to Yemen’s ills – far from it in fact.

Rather it is greed and a morbid hunger for control that have tipped Yemen over the edge. War here has been but a convenient rationale.

And though it may be not morally satisfying for many to admit to the fact that Yemenis’ suffering does not lay solely at the feet of those who chose war as a medium for peace and democratic empowerment, one must note here that Saudi Arabia is only but a cog in a much greater geopolitical machine. It would be intellectually fraudulent NOT to hold responsible those who share in the make-up of Yemen’s fall.

This is not to excuse the many grave abuses committed by Yemen’s warring factions. The realities of war are often bleak and unforgiving … it is in the nature of war to demand blood. Yet, as with everything real answers demand that we look beyond the veneer of political correctness to recognise that many of our political bias and prejudices have blinded us to one rather simple reality: Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has become a weapon of war and control, a tool wielded by politicians to anchor a new form of populist demagoguery, which goal is to drape one party with a convenient halo of moral outrage to better leverage power.

As noted by Jan Egeland, secretary general of the council and a former top U.N. humanitarian relief official on Twitter “Yemenis aren’t falling into starvation … They are being pushed into the abyss by men with guns and power.”

This is not to excuse the many grave abuses committed by Yemen’s warring factions. The realities of war are often bleak and unforgiving … it is in the nature of war to demand blood. 

In an interview with the New York Times earlier this September, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, the anti-hunger arm of the United Nations emphasised the gravity of the situation when he noted, “Yemen is absolutely without a doubt our greatest problem area in the world … What’s happening is deplorable, disgraceful.”

Indeed … nearly half of all Yemeni children suffer stunted growth because of malnutrition, something that could be rather simply remedied if only there was a will. But Yemen’s ruling elite, on both sides of the river, has proven unbending. 

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is not a by-product of Yemen’s institutional and political failures, and it is solely the result of a protracted military conflict; it was breathed into existence by the very parties which benefit from the political opportunism it represents.

How easy it has been for many to claim national duty and cry concern when they have stood in the way of deliveries, demanding that taxes be levied and aid rerouted so that it would benefit their respective militias?

A UN Panel of Experts reported in June 2017 that the Houthis had earned up to US$1.14 billion from fuel and oil distribution on the black market, and that fuel was “one of the main sources of revenue for the Houthis.” 

Yemen’s humanitarian problems are, while compounded, mostly artificial!

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