• Thomas Godfrey

As we bicker over statues, the world lets Yemen starve.

Do you know why there’s a civil war in Yemen? Do you know where Yemen is on a map? Be honest.


Not many people understand the full saved do the humanitarian crisis engulfing the Middle Eastern nation. And why would they? The famine’s exposure to the outside world has been primarily driven by the social media pages of activists and the occasional report from the UN.


The volatile Middle Eastern country began its plunge into malnourishment when, rocked by a botched power transfer settlement following an Arab Spring uprising, President Ali Abdullah Saleh threw in the towel on his 22 year authoritarian premiership.


His replacement was his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, a loyalist to Saleh who never quite nailed down his role as president.


Wildly unpopular due to his failure to deal with an increase in terror attacks and his perceived proximity to the much despised Saleh, a south Yemenese separatist movement began to gather momentum in their campaign to break away.


But it was the north of Yemen that Hadi would lose first. A movement of rebels, the Houthi movement, who has previously tried to overthrow Saleh in the last decade of his premiership, took advantage of the insecurity of the presidency to commandeer northern areas of the country. By late 2014, the rebels had grasped control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.


By now, Hadi’s role as president became a burden and a risk to his life. He fled abroad, leaving behind his country for it to fall into violence, famine and despair. His desertion of Yemen alerted the international community to the Houthi’s hostile takeover. Amid concerns Iran was funnelling weapons to the dissidents, Saudi Arabia pulled together a coalition of Sunni Islam states to fight the armed, Shia Houthi’s with the aim of restoring Hadi, a Sunni. It was supported by the US, France and the UK.


As Saudi-led forces began to push back against rebels, who by now controlled the entire central region of the country, the human cost of air-strikes and port blockades began to materialise. The UN say that 80% (24 Million) of Yemen’s civilians need humanitarian assistance. The war has directly killed 7,500 civilians between 2015 and 2018, mostly through airstrikes.


But most horrific of all is the surly famine sweeping the nation as its ports are blockaded and supply line cut off. Over 85,000 children have died from the famine and its consequential impact on Yemen’s civilians. It’s crisis is compounded further by the spread of Covid-19. Confirmed to have taken 160 lives in the nation - with the real figure likely much higher.


“One of our doctors brought his mother into the clinic during the night. In the morning, she was dead” says Thierry Durrand, operations leader for Doctors Without Borders in Yemen. Speaking to NPR, he claims the 75 bed private hospital is entirely inhabited by ill doctors, leaving the facility no choice but to turn away the already vulnerable and impoverished public. The unrelenting pressure on its people sees no sign of letting up. Despite positive steps in 2018, when a power sharing deal was reached between the Houthi’s and a now repatriated Hadi, a spike in tensions this year has quashed any signs of hope for Yemen.


And yet, we see or care little of what is happening. And when we do, the blame for the lack of humanitarian aid is placed at the feet of the whole world, or passed to the ‘Middle East’ in general.


Whilst it’s true that the stream of photos of famished children and schools torn apart by missiles generate a sense of shock, the causes that activists will kick into gear for lie primarily in the societal injustices they can change, or at least believe they can change. The outrage over the presence of ‘racist’ statues, such as that of Edward Colston - the notorious slaver who’s memorial was thrown into the Bristol Marina where his ships once docked - dwarfs the cries to solve the growing number of non-statue, real-life children who grow up malnourished and afraid that their life is perpetually in danger, as proven by the killing of 44 children on a summer trip by a Saudi airstrike in August 2018.


But hashtags and retweets are irrelevant when there’s no food to eat. For the people of Yemen, every day brings more of the same. It’s epidemic continues, the fighting continues, and worst of all, its famine continues. The world has let Yemen starve, and yet we remain silent.


Do you know why Yemen’s at war now?


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