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US and UK Support for Saudi Bombing of Yemen Causing the World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis


August 12, 2015
Kate Nevens /MENA & Zarina Khan and Leonie Northedge / SaferWorld

Continuing UK and US support to the Saudi-led bombing and de-facto blockade of Yemen is helping to contribute to what is the most severe global humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UK's support for this counterproductive military campaign is driven by its close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and betrays fundamental contradictions in UK foreign policy.

Special to Environmentalists Against War

Humanitarian Crisis Grows in Yemen
Kate Nevens /MENA

(August 13, 2015) -- One of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world is currently unfolding in Yemen, almost entirely outside of the headlines. Today, almost 2,000 civilians have been killed, 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, and two thirds of the population does not have access to clean water and sanitation.

As humanitarian agencies warn that the already vulnerable Yemeni population now faces widespread famine, the world needs to turn its attention to the conflict, which has brought about this crisis. While improving humanitarian access is vital, only bringing an end to the fighting will prevent catastrophe.

Saferworld is continuing to work with communities in Yemen who are affected by the conflict through our committed team and partners on the ground, as well as to raise the voice of Yemenis within international forums. You can read about our work on the crisis in this newsletter, and we hope that you will join us in raising awareness of the urgency to bring an end to this conflict

Kate Nevens is the Head of MENA



Public Outcry Looms over the UK's
Contradictory Policy Towards Yemen

Zarina Khan and Leonie Northedge / SaferWorld

(August 4, 2015) -- Continuing UK support to the Saudi-led bombing and de-facto blockade of Yemen is helping to contribute to what is the most severe global humanitarian crisis in the world today. The UK's support for this counterproductive military campaign is driven by its close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and betrays fundamental contradictions in UK foreign policy.

On 25 March of this year, a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia responded to exiled President Hadi's request to combat Houthi rebels by "all means and measures", a campaign which the UK has publicly endorsed. Moves by Houthi forces and former president Saleh had already led to civil conflict in Yemen.

The airstrikes, however, combined with an air and sea blockade that has prevented vital food and fuel supplies from reaching Yemenis who are in need, have exacerbated the fighting on the ground, decreased incentives for negotiation and created a desperate situation for civilians in an already fragile and vulnerable country.

The UK government has clearly acknowledged the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis: almost 2,000 civilians killed, 80% of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, 12.9 million people facing food shortages, and two thirds of the population without access to clean water and sanitation.

The UN has declared a level-3 humanitarian crisis in Yemen, its highest possible level. Yet even these numbers do not convey the devastating long-term consequences that the Yemeni population will face, even when the fighting comes to an end.

The UK government has also been keen to emphasize its £55 million contribution from the Department for International Development (DFID) for humanitarian relief. However, it has been less keen to publicise its ongoing arms exports to Saudi Arabia and its close military relationship with that country. Answers to parliamentary questions have repeatedly asserted that the UK is not directly participating in the military campaign.

However, as well as affirming its political support, the UK continues to provide technical support, precision-guided weapons and exchange of information to the Saudi military. In addition, UK personnel are based in Saudi Arabia to support the equipment supplied, and there are liaisons based directly in the coalition headquarters.

The government has not made any moves to assess its defence relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of the widely criticised campaign in Yemen: to the contrary, by 1 July 2015 37 export licences for military goods had been granted to Saudi Arabia since the bombardment began, while many more licences agreed previously remain extant.

There are no plans to review any of those licences. It has also failed to recognise the coalition's blockade of air, sea and land routes, referring only to "the obstruction to the delivery of humanitarian assistance" and failing to note the responsibility for blocking commercial shipping to a country heavily dependent on imports for staple foods.

As the months pass and the plight of the Yemeni population worsens, there has been little challenge from within government, Parliament or the media to the UK's support for Saudi-led military intervention. Reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have provided evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly violated the laws of war.

On 18 April, for example, Saudi airstrikes destroyed an Oxfam aid warehouse in Sa'ada. Yet the UK Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office repeated assurances from the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that they are "complying with International Humanitarian Law".

The UK government appears to be prepared to disregard the impact of the military intervention in Yemen in the interest of maintaining its relationship with Saudi Arabia -- a relationship that is largely defined by the value of its defence exports as well as other security, intelligence and trade arrangements. In private, British officials have been pushing back on the Saudi coalition's tactics, yet this quiet diplomacy has been ineffective.

The UK is making important contributions to the humanitarian response in Yemen, but its public endorsement of the coalition campaign undermines any prospects of a political solution. In order to address this fundamental contradiction in UK foreign policy, the UK needs to withdraw its support for the coalition campaign and undertake a serious re-assessment of its relationship with Saudi Arabia and other powerful Gulf states.

As a useful first step, it should reconsider the presence and role of the British advisors within the Saudi's military strategy units and cease any arms deliveries that are materially assisting the coalition campaign.

Zarina Khan is UK Advocacy Officer, Leonie Northedge is MENA Programme Manager.


Humanitarian Need Fuels Community-led Activism in Yemen
Hassan Al-Yabari, Elizabeth Bourne / SaferWorld

(July 13, 20150 -- Hassan Al-Yabari talks to Elizabeth Bourne about the steps communities in Taiz, Yemen, are taking to mitigate the impacts the current crisis is having on essential services.

Before the outbreak of the current conflict in Yemen, Community Action Groups (CAGs) set up by Saferworld and partner NODS were working in both a rural and an urban location in Taiz governorate tackling a variety of safety issues they had identified as affecting the local community. These issues included lack of trust between communities and local police; child labour; and the growing prevalence of people carrying weapons.

The results of the community groups' actions were impressive, highlighting the capacity of the groups to find innovative ideas to improve their local safety going beyond the groups original action plans.

For example, in rural Taizziyah the community group conducted a campaign funded by a small grant from Saferworld to highlight the dangers of carrying weapons. They used local community events where young men would be present (like World Cup screenings) to spread their messages, and organised a football tournament to do the same.

Sadly, Taiz governate is now experiencing some of the highest levels of violence in Yemen, seeing intense fighting between the Houthis and former President Saleh's forces and local resistance groups, as well as regular airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

Power outages are frequent and long-lasting, and like most areas of the country Taizi communities have little access to fuel, food and water. Recent reports have shown the brutal cost to human lives of the bombing and fighting with hundreds of casualties in Taiz city, and every aspect of people's daily lives affected by the restrictions on resources entering the country.

In Muthafar a military base has been heavily targeted by the airstrikes, forcing many community members to leave for safety. The rural area of Taizziyah has seen an influx of internally displaced people as a result of the fighting. Reports from the communities about their experiences are truly horrifying.

Since the current conflict intensified it has become much more difficult to address the underlying drivers of conflict and the longer-term issues that the community groups have been working on. But what we have seen is a pragmatic approach to the situation by the community groups and their local networks.

In spite of the conditions in Taiz, they have continued to come together and discuss how they can mobilise the community to address some of the urgent practical issues that have arisen as a result of the conflict, building on the relationships, experience and standing they have developed within the community before the outbreak of conflict to come together and take action.

In Muthafar rubbish collections stopped when the airstrikes started in March due to the lack of fuel (Yemen relies on imports for over 90% of its fuel and food) and because rubbish trucks were being targeted by the strikes. Keen to stop rising cases of dengue fever and other diseases spreading more widely, the community group initiated a campaign within the neighbourhood, going from area to area to raise awareness of the problem and bringing the community together to clean the streets.

Through the contribution of a local NGO, they found a truck to take the rubbish away. Before and after photos of the street show the enormous difference the action has made.

Other immediate issues the community groups have identified locally include the lack of safe drinking water. In many areas authorities have been unable to keep providing water at tankers, and attacks on women and children have increased as they go further to try and find water. The community groups are now looking for contributors to help fund the filling of empty tankers and looking into ways to ensure fair distribution of water within the community.

The day to day difficulties faced by citizens in Taiz, and across Yemen, are immense. However, this kind of community-led activism continues in almost every city and every village.

In areas extremely difficult for international -- and national -- organisations to access, local community groups continue to organise, local businesses make in-kind donations to food distributions, and private hospitals open their doors to everyone, pulling together in the face of catastrophic levels of humanitarian need.

Hassan Al-Yabari is Saferworld's project coordinator, Yemen. Elizabeth Bourne is communications coordinator.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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