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The World’s Worst Humanitarian Catastrophe is in Yemen – and the West is Complicit

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years. While the corporate media’s attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis gripping hurricane-ravaged nations in the Caribbean and regions of the United States, the world’s worst humanitarian…

Written by

Rupen Savoulian


Originally Published in

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

While the corporate media’s attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis gripping hurricane-ravaged nations in the Caribbean and regions of the United States, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is in Yemen. There is no suggestion that the people of Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas are undeserving of full support, or that their suffering is to be negated. However, we must focus our attention on the entirely man-made disaster unfolding in Yemen; it is worsening, and it is the result of policies pursued by the United States and Britain.

Indeed, calling Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is not my own wording. That is the description applied to the situation in Yemen by the highly esteemed publication the New York Slimes. The authors of the article elaborate upon the horrendous conditions in that country since the March 2015 Saudi-led offensive;

Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books.

In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

You may read the entire article online. It makes for heart-wrenching, disturbing reading. It is very well written, accompanied by powerful images of the human suffering currently unfolding in Yemen. However, there are some serious omissions in the essay. Omissions that not only detract from the quality of the writing, but that indicate the political myopia, or unwillingness, of the authors to confront the political culpability of the powers enabling the Yemeni crisis. It is no exaggeration to state that the corporate media in the West have obscured, and downplayed, the responsibility of the United States and Britain in facilitating the ongoing Saudi assault on Yemen.

Ben Norton, writing in Common Dreams magazine, wrote that since the Saudi-led coalition began its relentless bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the casualties and fatalities caused by the aerial assaults are routinely downplayed as just simply the sadly regrettable but necessary fact of the war. Responsibility for the air strikes that kill Yemenis is constantly obscured as a disembodied tragedy with no single party to blame.

A corollary of this practice is to place the Saudi military, and the opposing Houthi militia, on an equal footing. This false equivalency obscures the culpability of the US-and-British-supported Saudi offensive for the resultant deaths, but also conveys the false impression that this conflict is between two equals, much like a boxing contest. If they are both responsible, well, we can dismiss it is just another Middle Eastern tragedy, and no-one will be held accountable. The Saudi war on Yemen, and the Houthi resistance, is not a war of equals.

There is no moral equivalence between invaders and the invaded. When the Saudi military bombs hospitals, schools, medical clinics, the electricity power stations and the civilian infrastructure which sustains Yemeni society, they are guilty creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Saudi planes that launch these raids are refueled with American and British help. American and Britain made ammunition is being used by the Saudis to kill Yemeni civilians. When medical and sanitation workers can no longer perform their jobs keeping the streets clean and hygienic, the resultant loss of life is predictable.

In August this year, the Guardian reported on the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Cholera is a bacterial infection, and it can be treated effectively and easily with the proper medication and public hygiene and sanitation measures. However, when civilian infrastructure is destroyed, and the airports and ports of Yemen are blockaded to prevent supplies reaching the nation, the civilian casualties will inevitably rise. Trapping civilians and starving them into submission is one tactic of the Saudi military in its war on Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that at the time of writing, there are 750 000 suspected cases of cholera, with 2119 fatalities.

There is no question that the Saudi offensive against Yemen would not have begun, or have had such devastating consequences, were it not for the unstinting military and political support Saudi Arabia receives from its principal patrons; the United States and Britain. The hypocrisy of the Western powers is astounding – given that the US and Britain have only this year approved further arms sales to the Saudi petro-monarchy. If you wish, you may listen to a short snippet of video where Sir Michael Fallon, the current British Secretary of Defence, is justifying the billions of pounds worth of armaments sales and trade that Britain has with Saudi Arabia. If you can follow his reasoning, please be my guest.

There is a flip side to that coin. Supporters of the Saudi war on Yemen, portray the Houthi rebel movement as a puppet of Iran. This is quite simply, inaccurate. In an article for the Washington Post, Thomas Juneau, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate school of public and international affairs, examines this claim in extensive detail. Juneau addresses several concerns.

Firstly, while the Houthis are routinely described as being Shia, and therefore religiously aligned with Iran’s leaders, this is not strictly accurate. The Houthis practice Zaydi Shiism, which is a distinct branch, and theologically different from the Twelver Shiism practised by the majority of the world’s Shias.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is not religious affiliation that brought Iran and the Houthis together, albeit in a very limited manner. Iran’s influence over the Houthi movement is marginal at best. It is political dissatisfaction with the current regional order that unites these forces. Iran has long opposed the predominance of the American-backed Saudi monarchy in the region. The Houthis, currently fighting the Saudi-supported Yemeni government, have found that their interests correspond closely with Tehran, for the time being.

To reduce the Houthis to Iranian proxies, and therefore interpret the conflict in Yemen as a cartoonishly simple ‘Sunnis versus Shias’ is a huge mistake, and obscures the political and economic grievances that have driven this conflict. There are numerous Yemeni army units, loyal to ousted long-term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, now fighting alongside the Houthis against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis are fighting not as an extension of Iranian influence, but because they oppose the lack of meaningful political change since the 2011 removal of Saleh. They claim that the changes since the 2011 uprising have been cosmetic, and did not result in a resolution of any political and economic grievances which drove the initial uprising. In fact, the removal of Saleh, and installation of his former colleague Hadi, was an initiative undertaken by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to limit democratic reforms, while maintaining the bulk of the Yemeni regime in place.

Ending the cozy military and business relationship between the imperialist states and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not only expose those who profiteer from war-making and armaments-trading, but also undermine Saudi Arabia’s ability to prosecute the Yemen assault, bringing much-needed relief to the people there. We must expose the quiet support of the United States and Britain (with Australia closely in tow) for the Saudi war on Yemen, and highlight the destructive hypocrisies that have produced this catastrophe.

The criminal silence surrounding the humanitarian disaster afflicting Yemen must be broken. It is time to take journalistic responsibility, and expose the crimes of the imperialist elite. Those responsible for enabling this carnage to continue must be held accountable in a Nuremberg-style tribunal.

Rupen Savoulian is a socialist, atheist and blogger at Antipodean Atheist