The UK has decided to cut aid to victims of the conflict but won't stop selling arms to those perpetrating large scale atrocities against civilians.
From a list of countries where humanitarian crises are set to worsen in 2021, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has ranked Yemen most at risk of becoming a fully-fledged humanitarian catastrophe as result of escalating conflict and widespread disease and famine.
The level of death and suffering is staggering. More than 112,000 people have lost their lives as a direct result of the violence, including 13,000 civilians in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project. More than 20 million Yemenis are dependent on some kind of humanitarian aid – be it food, medical or otherwise – as cholera and Covid-19 stalk the country.
Worryingly, these horrors are about to become measurably and materially worse, given the cruel abandonment by those responsible for Yemen’s death and destruction.
On Monday, the United Nations announced it had raised less than half of the $3.85 billion it had targeted from 100 countries for humanitarian efforts in Yemen, in what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described as a “disappointing outcome.”
“Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence,” said Guterres said in a statement.
This should be read in no other way than the international community cruelly abandoning the Yemeni people, who, for no fault of their own, have been caught in the middle of an international proxy war, with Iran-backed Houthi militias on one side and the Saudi-UAE led coalition on the other, with the United States and United Kingdom supplying the missiles, bombs and satellite tracking technologies.
The UK government deserves added condemnation, however. Its decision to cut its aid by half came just one week after the international aid agency Oxfam accused it of “prolonging” the war in Yemen through the sale arms to Saudi Arabia, saying it had issued 1,697 arms export licences for bombs and missiles totalling $8.6 billion since 2015.
“Abandoning a forgotten country and people is inconsistent with our values, weakens our moral authority and reduces our influence,” said former UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “We should be increasing the scale of our support in the face of such suffering - to cut it at this moment of extreme peril is incomprehensible."
In fact, the UK authorised the sale of $1.88 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first three-month period - July to September 2020 – after a one-year ban on weapon sales expired in July.
These bombs, missiles and rockets have been used to destroy water and sanitation supplies, cholera treatment centres, food storage facilities and critical infrastructure, resulting in death, misery and total destruction of the economy. Each year the conflict continues, the Yemeni economy contracts further, according to the World Bank, making the Middle East’s poorest country even poorer.
“What the UK has given in aid to hungry, homeless Yemenis is dwarfed by what it has gained in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. The cost of the war to Yemen and Yemenis is greater still and getting bigger by the day,” says Oxfam.
Others have accused the UK government of “putting profit before Yemeni lives” in a crisis the UK helped create, including Sarah Waldon of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, who holds the country directly responsible for this “unfolding catastrophe through its weapons supplies.”
When I spoke with Yemeni human rights organisations and journalists about the cutting of humanitarian aid, they expressed dismay and frustration not only towards the UK and UN, but also the Houthi militias that control the capital Saana, accusing the rebel group of misdirecting the aid to fund its takeover of the country.
“Most of those in need, particularly in Houthi controlled areas, get only a small fraction of the humanitarian aid because the Houthis either obstruct aid agencies from reaching civilians or divert aid to their fighters,” says Ali al-Sakani, a Yemeni journalist – a view shared by Riyadh al-Dubai, co-founder of and monitoring reporting officer for RASD Coalition, which documents human rights violations in Yemen.
“Any cut or reduction in donations for health programs or food assistance has a drastic impact on people’s lives but simultaneously we must remind the UN agencies and international organisations that the Houthi rebels is the party that benefits the most from this aid,” Mareb al-Award, a Yemen based journalist, told me.
No doubt, this is a war in which all parties have committed gross violations of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but to continue arming a conflict at the same time you’re cutting humanitarian aid to those most affected by the violence generated from it, is the very definition of evil.
The UK and international community has a moral obligation to stop the sale of arms to the belligerents and pressure all sides into agreeing to a nationwide ceasefire, while fulfilling commitments to pledges made towards the humanitarian response. It not, this year will indeed be “catastrophic” for the Yemeni people, just as the International Rescue Committee is warning.
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