Date: Wednesday, 22 November 2017
The Riyadh-led coalition’s embargo on Yemen is pushing its people to the brink of humanitarian disaster, reports Haitham Nouri
Yemen’s humanitarian situation is fast deteriorating. The crisis has taken a grave turn after the Arab Coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, closed Yemen’s sea, land and air ports after a ballistic missile targeting Riyadh airport was intercepted. The attack was blamed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels with Iranian support.
The United Nations and its offices functioning in Yemen demanded the Arab Coalition lift the embargo, warning that the situation will affect millions of Yemenis and may lead to “the worst famine the world has known in decades”, according to Mark Lowcock, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
In response to Lowcock’s statement, Saudi Envoy to the UN Abdullah Al-Muallemi said the circumstances in Yemen “are not dangerous” and that the country “enjoys many sources for supply”.
Three UN agencies released a joint statement warning of the repercussions of the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions in Yemen. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in their report that 60 per cent of Yemenis (about 20 million, including 11 million children) need urgent humanitarian assistance.
Even if the embargo is partially lifted, 3.2 million Yemenis will be in danger of famine, FAO said. The embargo will lead to the death of 150,000 children in the coming few months, the organisation added.
Save the Children UK estimated that 50,000 Yemeni children died in 2017, with an average rate of 130 children every day. UNICEF and FAO added that 2.2 million Yemeni children are malnourished and 3.4 million Yemenis are in need of urgent medical assistance.
WHO estimates put the number of people infected with cholera at 750,000. Save the Children’s figures put them at 900,000. The latter figure is closer to Red Cross statistics that estimated that a million people would be infected with cholera by the end of 2017.
Bombings in Yemen, which have been taking place for over three years, have forced the displacement of more than two million Yemenis, adding to 225,000 Somali migrants in Yemen, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
Despite the harsh humanitarian situation in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has dictated that relief materials enter the country through the ports of Aden and Al-Mokla, which fall under the control of the government that is internationally acknowledged and supported by Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has also requested international monitoring of Al-Hodaida port, which receives 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports and is controlled by the Houthis, and the application of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) to ships entering Al-Hodaida port — a process the UN already follows.
According to the UN, the embargo has prevented 29 ships carrying 400 tons of relief foods and 192 tons of fuel from entering Yemen’s ports. A UN ship loading 1,300 tons of medicinal and food supplies was not permitted to access Al-Hodaida port.
Yemen’s waters and air space are controlled by the Arab Coalition, led by Riyadh, giving the coalition leverage over the poorest Arab country until the last war.
Saudi Arabia accuses its enemy Iran of supplying the Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles which were used in the attempted attack on Riyadh airport. Tehran denies these allegations, and disclaims its support of the Houthis.
Riyadh officials have reiterated that their kingdom will not allow Yemen to fall into the hands of Iran.
Editor Samuel Oakford wrote on The Intercept website that the committee formed by the UN Security Council on Yemen in 2014 — and reformed after Resolution 2216 — has handed a “secret statement” out to diplomats denying the Saudi Arabian claims.
The committee reported on 10 November that there was no evidence that the ballistic missiles fired on Riyadh airport were transported to Houthis. It also said that Saudi Arabia is preventing the delivery of relief materials under the pretext of Article 14 of Resolution 2216 which prohibits the delivery of weaponry to Houthi rebels. This, despite the fact that what international organisations are requesting is the entrance to Yemen of civil relief materials, Oakford wrote.
This is why, he added, the Riyadh-led coalition has been waging war against the Houthis (Shia Zaidism) since 26 March 2015 and claiming that they are supported by Iran.
Saudi Arabia justifies this war that it supports the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who served as vice president to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Hadi supporters are divided between the Islah Party, which is the political front of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, and the Southern Movement that demands the separation of the south and the return of the Yemen republic.
On the other hand, Saleh, who controls the Yemeni army, is in alliance with the Houthis. Lately, however, Western media reports are pointing to negotiations between the United Arab Emirates and the General People’s Congress, a party headed by Saleh, to put the latter in place of Hadi and his camp.
The plan, proposed by Abu Dhabi and reported by The Guardian, suggests moving the presidential authorities to Hadi’s vice president who would then proceed to form a government. The plan cannot be executed without Saleh’s powerful party which controls state institutions and the army. The Guardian also pointed out that Saudi Arabia had denied claims that Hadi is not allowed to return to Yemen or is being held against his will in Riyadh.
Saudi media have recently circulated pictures and news of a meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islah Party. The meeting was described by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as “a step in the right direction, because they [the Muslim Brotherhood] are a force to be reckoned with” in Yemen, he wrote on Twitter.
Sources close to decision-making circles in Saudi Arabia said the meeting was proof of the “lie” of Hadi’s being held captive.
A number of international reports in addition to some Yemeni government statements, however, point to the government’s inability to control the areas under its jurisdiction because of the power of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen), one of the strongest groups in the terrorist organisation.
Tens of civilians, military and security personnel died in southern Yemen as a result of terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Al-Qaeda controls large parts of Marib and Hadhramaut governorates.
The fate of Yemen amid its crisis remains unknown.