By Joyce Rothermel
Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is currently facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis; the United Nations reports that half of the population is already facing pre-famine conditions and is entirely reliant on aid for survival. At least 400,000 children younger than age 5 are at risk of death from malnutrition. Without urgent action, millions of civilians could face starvation solely as a result of an ongoing armed conflict. Yemeni children who manage to survive will live with the devastating health and developmental impacts of malnutrition for the rest of their lives.
Yemen is an Arab country located in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders Saudi Arabia in the North and Oman in the East. The western and southern part are on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Constitutionally the capital of Yemen is the city of Sana’a, but due to recent developments, the port city of Aden is the provisional capital.
For the most part of the 20th century, Yemen was divided into North Yemen (Yemen Arab Republic), which became independent in 1918 after the Ottoman Empire had dissolved. South Yemen continued to be a British protectorate until 1967. In 1990 the two states formed the Republic of Yemen. In 1990 Ali Abdullah Saleh became the first president. Soon after, the country was confronted by a civil war. In the following two decades the Yemeni people suffered from many violent attacks, especially from Al Qaeda.
In 2011 Yemeni revolution followed other Arab Spring mass protests. After clashes between the police and rebels, President Saleh fled to Saudi Arabia and began to lose international support. He transferred the office to Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, but he was not able to control the situation either. By 2012, there has been a small amount of U.S. special-operations troops supported by the CIA in Yemen in reaction to violent attacks against the Yemeni population. The government tried to fight the many separatists but was not able to hold them back. In 2014 and 2015 Houthis took over the government in Sana’a with the help of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and deposed the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Meanwhile a branch of the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) joined together with Al Qaeda and tried to build an Islamic Emirate and after two fails the third attempt appeared to have worked, since the two organizations established governmental structures in their territories. Currently three parties try to control Yemen: The Hadi loyalists, Houthis and Saleh loyalists, and Al Qaeda and ISIL.
But behind the scenes countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia try to use the conflict for their own regional interests; especially the massive intervention by an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States. Not only is the conflict very brutal but it also caused the current humanitarian crisis, which affects the whole Yemeni population.
Humanitarian and political solutions are both needed. The United Nations is now urging warring parties in Yemen to give it access to a vast store of grain at the Red Sea Mills facility south of the port of Hudaydah. Able to feed millions for at least a month, the grain from the World Food Program is now at risk of rotting there. We must call on the U.S. government to use every tool at its disposal (diplomacy, economic influence, and other strategies) to cease U.S. military support of the parties waging war in Yemen, enable aid workers to reach those in need, and promote peace and economic recovery.
To: Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, USAID Administrator Mark Green and Members of Congress:
Message: We call on you to use all tools available to the United States to avert further suffering and death in Yemen. Humanitarian officials project that half of the country’s population is on the brink of famine, including 5 million children. Yemeni children who manage to survive will live with the devastating impact of malnutrition for the rest of their lives.
The conflict in Yemen must end to prevent further loss of life. We call on our U.S. government leaders to: end all U.S. military and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.
• Use U.S. influence and leverage in the region to promote peace and responsible economic policies that will enable the Yemeni population to access and afford food and medicine.
• Ensure the humanitarian response in Yemen is fully funded to meet the immediate nutrition needs of Yemen’s civilian population.
Let us join in this effort with Bread for the World and many others who are calling on our U.S. government to stop providing support that fuels the war in Yemen and make every effort to end the nation’s famine conditions. (Visit http://www.bread.org/Yemen and sign the petition.)
(Information for this article was sourced from Wikipedia, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (NOCHA), the New York Times, and Bread for the World.)
Joyce Rothermel is a member of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests and the Thomas Merton Center
(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)