By Steve Bell
On Monday 25 January there will be an international day of action against the war on Yemen. The appeal for action has now been endorsed by over three hundred organisations from seventeen different countries. At the heart of this alliance has been an initiative from the anti-war movement in the US and Britain, whose governments have facilitated a war which has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Yemen’s nightmare in 2020
Inside Yemen, 2020 was characterised by the further worsening of the social catastrophe, and the deepening fiasco of the Saudi intervention. On January 14th 2021, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, reported to the UN Security Council. In a country of 30 million people, he stated that 16 million will go hungry this year. Immediately, 50,000 are starving to death, and he said, “another 5 million are just one step behind them”.
It is difficult to grasp the depth and extent of the crisis. According to the World Bank, Yemen’s Gross Domestic Product was $42 billion in 2015. By 2019, this figure fell to $22 billion. Figures for 2020 are not yet available, but a further fall is inevitable given the impact of the war, COVID-19, floods, cholera, locusts, and the continued siege of the country. Since the start of the war, the population of one of the world’s poorer countries has had its living standards more than halved.
Over 250,000 Yemenis have died as a result of combat, associated diseases, and hunger. Around 3.8 million have been displaced.
Inevitably in war it is the most vulnerable who bear the biggest burden. According to a report published in December 2020 by the UN Population Fund, there are 1.2 million pregnant and breast-feeding women who are acutely malnourished. The war has led to the closure of more than half of Yemen’s medical facilities. Of those that remain, only twenty per cent offer maternal and child health care services. One woman and six newborns die in childbirth every two hours. Six out of ten births take place without a skilled attendant.
Saudi’s fiasco in 2020
Incredibly, 2020 saw a reduction in aid to Yemen. The UN’s programme for the year required $3.4 billion. At the end of December only $1.7 billion had been received. This was because in March President Trump cut US aid, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates followed suit. According to Mark Lowcock, the UN had been helping 13.5 million Yemenis, but because of the cuts this was reduced to 9 million by the year’s end.
This takes place against the continuing fiasco of the Saudi/UAE led war. 2020 saw continued armed action between Coalition “partners”. Despite big diplomatic efforts by the Saudi regime, there has been no reduction in the fundamental difference between the militias armed by the Saudis, and those armed by the UAE. Just this week the Southern Transitional Council (funded by UAE) rejected recent ministerial appointments of the supporters of ex-President Hadi (funded by the Saudis). Armed conflict broke out in Aden between these forces. After six years, the Coalition, which is supported by the US and British governments, continues to be at war with itself.
Organising pressure upon new US government
Now is a particularly effective time for action against the war. President Biden gave a commitment in his election campaign to end support for the war and suggested that arms sales may be frozen. But for the Biden administration ending the war will not be straightforward. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are key allies, and they occupy significant parts of Yemeni territory, especially ports, oilfields and Socotra island. Despite the dependence of these two governments on US and British assistance with the war, they will attempt to prevent being displaced or marginalised in any settlement.
On his way out of office, Trump had Ansarallah defined as a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation”. This is particularly damaging. Ansarallah (‘the Houthis’) provides governance for around 70 per cent of the population. Any organisation now providing humanitarian aid, medical assistance, or importing food into this territory could find their assets seized, and their personnel facing criminal charges in US courts.
Biden’s administration has announced a review of this decision. It may be that the administration is concerned about the political price for appearing “weak on terrorism”. Whatever the reason for delay, it is vital to overturn this decision, and gives great weight to the activity of anti-war activists.
Activists in Britain can help by supporting the social media actions on the 25 January. There will be an online student rally at 5pm and an international online rally at 7pm. To register for these events visit the Stop the War Coalition website here.