When I took on the task of writing this piece, I thought it would be a win-win situation; I get the chance to learn more about the current state of affairs in Yemen, and then transfer this knowledge to others. To my surprise, my research led me nowhere. Most of the information about Yemen we find online is based on poor political analytical articles, UN reports, and dry, soulless news update. You can hardly find anything that humanizes the conflict, the actual suffering of people is rendered invisible by the manipulation of representation by interfering political and military actors, and conspiring silence of allies.
It is hard to try to summarize a complicated and long termed event such as the Yemeni’s in a few lines but I will attempt to do so. In 2011, echoing the uprisings taking place in surrounding Arab countries Yemenis took to the streets their demands for social justice and political reform. Ali Abdullah Saleh the long term autocrat was forced out of power in 2012 after almost 34 years, including 12 years as a president of north Yemen before the unification in 1990. In 2015 Salih joined forces with the Houthi’s insurgents who were able to seized the capital while Abdrabbu Mansour hadi, who was president at the time, fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia. Ever since multiple forces joined the war and the situation turned chaotic as bombs and rockets fill randomly over civilians and destroying not only their own homes but a great deal of infrastructural establishments, lowering their quality of life and threatening their survival.
Though people would like to take the easiest shortcut and describe this as a sectarian civil war, I find it hard to comply. Even before the current war, Yemen has been a country consumed by poverty and lack of resources. Its strategic location acted as a curse more than a blessing. Those who wanted to take the advantage of the Marib dam after the Suez Canal was opened did not really like the idea of answering to a powerful and sovereign nation, so it was for everyone’s good to keep the region under the pressure of internal unrest during the colonial times, civil war period, and dictatorship afterwards.
“The Happy Yemen”
The Happy Yemen we used to call it. The image of Yemen had to do with its selected green scenery, houses balancing on cliffs and mountains covered with artistic engravings and coloring, people stuffing their faces with Khat, and daggers hanging of their waists, lots of daggers. I know that these are very simplistic and maybe essentialist views, but it is the picture painted to us as kids. I had some Yemeni friends who were amongst the most kind hearted and generous people I knew. Then, there is the Yemeni singers, you can never mistake their voices or rhythms, they sound like history and a long lasting civilization. I have to mention Balqees, the queen of Saba’a, one of the women mentioned in the Qura’an though not by that name. And of course we cannot forget the coffee, they taught us in geography classes, Coffee was the major crop in Yemen in the 1800s, for some reason it was replaced with Khat.
But this is not the Yemen that we’ve been exposed to these few years, that was a Yemen which existed in books, and TV shows, maybe few news reports here and there. Even when the uprising started in 2012 there was little attention, until Tawakol Qarman the Nobel peace prize winner rose to the occasion. A few months later, all was forgotten and the world moved on. I am not sure if it is the lack of Russian interference that makes the world care less, would the situation be different if Russia had something to gain in Yemen and the US needed to defend its allies and benefits their? We don’t know..
What we know is that the country is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe, according to the Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien in addressed a statement to the UN Security Council on 31 October 2016. More than 10000 people were killed and 35000 were injured since March 2015. As a result of the ongoing fighting and airstrikes between Houthi forces held-areas and Saudi collation three million people have been displaced. 7 million suffer from lack of food and probably do not know where the next meal is coming from. 68% are in need of humanitarian or protection assistance according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in numbers that is around 19 million people. Around 14 million people are considered food insecure and 7 million severely food insecure. About 3.3 million children and pregnant or breast-feeding women are extremely malnourished, 462,000 of which are children under five who face severe malnutrition. There is an 63% increase since late 2015 and threatens the lives and life-long prospects of those affected, according to the UN.
These numbers can rarely affect how things are on the ground, because simply we do not feel numbers, we do not see in them the people who were counted, we do not get what it means to be hungry for days, and scared for your life all the time. We only know that these are big numbers, and we also know that something should be done. Because if we only act on the things that we can touch or feel, then no one will be there to help when we need it most.