Two weeks of a Saudi Arabia-led bombardment and siege on the impoverished nation of Yemen has bred a profound humanitarian crisis—marked by hundreds of civilian deaths and worsening food and water shortages.
As the Saudi-led coalition blocks almost all food and medical aid from getting in, while bombing public infrastructure, residents and aid organizations warn that the worst is yet to come.
“So many of my family members are saying that if the war is not going to kill you, it’s the humanitarian crisis that will,” Rooj Alwazir, Yemeni activist currently based in Washington, D.C. and co-founder of Support Yemen Media, told the Shay wa Nana Radio Show, which aired Wednesday.
The war, which is led by Saudi Arabia and now includes the United States, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, and Morocco, is being waged against one of the poorest countries in the world.
The United Nations estimates that 16 million out of 25 million people in Yemen were in need of humanitarian assistance before the fighting began. Yemen relies on imports for 90 percent of staple food items, including 100 percent of rice.
“So many of my family members are saying that if the war is not going to kill you, it’s the humanitarian crisis that will.”
—Rooj Alwazir, Support Yemen Media
But the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly blocked international aid from getting through as it lays siege to Yemen, a country the size of France, including a naval blockade. Commercial shipping lines are either scaling back or completely halting all services to the country, Reuters reports.
The aid group Oxfam warned on Wednesday, “Regular imports of food and fuel have not reached Yemen since the escalation in violence began two weeks ago, due to the closure of land, sea and air routes into the country.” As a result, the organization said, food prices have doubled, fuel prices have quadrupled in some areas, and basic goods are running “dangerously low.”
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“It’s getting very difficult to find wheat these days and we are not expecting anymore deliveries,” said Abdulrahman, a shop keeper in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, according to the Oxfam statement.
Some areas, meanwhile, are close to completely running out of water. The United Nations warned on Friday that in the southern city of Aden, heavily targeted by shelling from war planes, “one million people risk being cut off from access to clean drinking water within a matter of days.”
Meanwhile, civilian infrastructure—including markets, schools, medical facilities, power plants, and warehouses—is being targeted in attacks, the UN finds. There are also numerous reports emerging that the coalition is targeting food supply buildings with its bombings.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters on Thursday that civilians in Yemen are being “willfully abandoned.” He charged, “Ordinary Yemeni families are struggling for the very basics—water, food, fuel and medicine. Hundreds of civilians have been killed. Hospitals and schools are shutting down—some of which are direct targets of the fighting.”
And then, of course, there are the people dying beneath the coalition’s bombs. According to the latest situation report from the World Health Organization, since March 19, the conflict has killed at least 643 people and wounded 2,226, with 334,000 internally displaced and 8.4 million estimated to be in immediate need of health care services.
Harrowing reports of civilian deaths are emerging from the ground in Yemen, including an account by journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, published by The Nation magazine on Friday, which told the story of the al-Amari family, many of whom were killed when an air strike hit their home on March 31. “To see your brother, your daughter, your son burning in front of your eyes,” 32-year-old survivor Mohamed Abdu Hameed al-Amari told Kouddous. “It was the blackest day in history.”
“Yemen needs an influx of aid, not bombs, drones, and hellfire missiles.”
—Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus
“The situation is just getting worse and worse every day,” said Alwazir. “People are afraid, they are living day to day in constant fear they might be next, either by an air strike or getting killed in crossfire between Houthis and popular committees in Aden.”
Even with aid shut out, the United States is expediting weapons shipments in, helping coordinate the assault, and even refueling Saudi war planes for air strikes.
Voices from Yemen and around the world are denouncing what they say is a proxy war of aggression, waged by wealthy and autocratic governments at the expense of the Yemeni people.
“The Yemen war is a variation on an old theme, where despotic regimes in the Middle East call on the United States to do their dirty work,” wrote Adil Shamoo, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, in a post at Foreign Policy in Focus earlier this week. “The involvement of so many countries in the region in the war in Yemen could result in a wider war with completely unpredictable outcomes, even outside the country’s borders.”
And foreign policy expert Conn Hallinan, a columnist for FPIF, wrote on Friday, “Yemen needs an influx of aid, not bombs, drones, and hellfire missiles.”
Protests from London to Pakistan to Lebanon have called for an immediate end to the bombings and cessation of the military assault.
And from Yemen to the diaspora, people have taken to social media to send a message of humanity and tell the world they have had “enough” war.
The online campaign “Kefaya War,” which means “Enough War” in Arabic, was founded by independent Yemeni activists, including Rooj Alwazir. It has received messages of solidarity from the Philippines to Mexico to Aden:
Tweets by @KefayaWar