A recent donor conference was nothing more than a futile attempt by the Saudi government and its allies to improve their global image

Jamal Elaheebocus

A Yemeni man lies in hospital with injuries sustained by a Saudi air strike

Yemen has been mercilessly attacked by Saudi Arabia, backed up by the US, UK and other European countries, since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March 2015. Since then, the Yemen Data Project estimates that over 20,000 airstrikes have been launched by the Saudi-led coalition since March 2015, one third of which have targeted civilians. The Houthi-aligned Yemeni military puts the number of airstrikes at over 250,000.

The coalition has received unwavering support from the US and UK, who have consistently provided aircraft and arms to the coalition. The UK has sold £5.4 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2015 and the US is responsible for 70% of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015. This has continued despite concerns over violation of international law and the bombing of civilians.

The war has killed over 100,000 people and displaced 3 million. The coalition is directly responsible for the death or injury of 18,400 civilians. Hospitals, health centres and water plants have been routinely hit by airstrikes. One result of this is that Yemen has been unable to cope with infectious diseases, such as cholera, dengue fever or diphtheria.

Yemen is currently facing a third cholera outbreak since 2016, following flooding earlier this year. The disease has infected over 2 million people since 2016 and killed almost 4,000, according to the WHO. There were almost 60,000 cases of dengue fever last year. The way these diseases have been able to spread throughout Yemen so severely is a result of the complete lack of infrastructure, health care and access to clean water and sanitation. All of these have been specific targets of the Saudi coalition.

Now, Yemen must also face a devastating coronavirus pandemic. Testing is at extremely low levels and so the number of cases and deaths, which currently stands at 591 and 136 respectively, is almost certainly a gross underestimation. On 22nd May, the UN said that Yemen’s health system had “in effect collapsed”. Aid workers are reporting shortages of oxygen and PPE in those hospitals that remain open. The head of the UN Refugee Agency warned that coronavirus will “delete Yemen from maps all over the world”.

All the while, Saudi Arabia and the West have thrown loose change at UN aid efforts in Yemen. The conference in 2019 raised just $3.6 billion, well short of the $4.2 billion request from the UN. This year it has received only 15% of the pledged $3.5 billion. A conference at the start of June raised just $1.35 billion, $1 billion short of the UN target. The UK pledged just $195 million, over $400 million less than the value of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year. Saudi Arabia donated $500 million, while they continue to spend over $5 billion on the war every month. As a result of the funding falling short, the UN has been forced to start the first wave of closures, starting with services for pregnant women in 150 hospitals.

The conference was nothing more than a futile attempt by the Saudi government to improve their global image, as they have attempted to do in the past. The truth is, however, that the only way Yemen can deal with the coronavirus is a ceasefire and an end to the war.

The Saudi-led coalition would not be able to operate without backing of Western countries. Despite CAAT’s court victory last year, which resulted in a ban for new arms deals with Saudi Arabia, arms sales have continued and the ban has been breached at least three times. The US and UK in particular need to end arms sales to the Saudi government, as has been done in Germany, Switzerland, Finland and elsewhere. As a BAE employee pointed out, “If we weren’t there, in seven to fourteen days there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky.”

The death toll from coronavirus in Yemen is therefore largely down to the actions, or lack of, from Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. There needs to be an immediate comprehensive ceasefire. The last ceasefire, which was put in place after UN General Secretary Antonia Guterres called for a global ceasefire, was unsuccessful; fighting and bombing continued throughout. The UK also needs to end all arms trade with Saudi Arabia, considering the thousands of innocent civilians killed by the Saudi coalition.

Without this action, Yemen will see thousands die from coronavirus, on top of the 233,000 people the UN predicted would die from the war this year. All in all, it amounts to a potential catastrophe. It is almost certain that thousands of people have already been infected. We will also never know the true death toll of the coronavirus in Yemen, just as we will never know the true death toll from the horrific war which has been raging for over 5 years.

15 Jun 2020

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