In Yemen, as in so many places, public discourse is fouled by lies, damned lies and statistics. The lies, damned or not, are bad; the statistics are much, much worse.
2 ½ years of civil war in Yemen have killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced 3 million, and have led to a famine which, the UN warns could affect as many as 7 million people, a conservative estimate since the same agencies say 17 million Yemenis are already going hungry, including 2.2 million children who suffer from acute malnutrition.
The war, particularly the relentless bombing by coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and aided and supplied by the United States, has not only killed thousands, it has destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure, including its water and sewage systems. This has led to the worst single outbreak of cholera in recorded history. More staggering statistics: Since April, that is, in a little more than 4 months, the UN reports that more than half a million Yemeni people have contracted cholera and 2000 have died. But medical experts say, if the war doesn’t stop soon, that number will not just grow, but multiply, because, they say, those more than 2 million acutely malnourished children are especially vulnerable to the disease.
These doctors also say, in the 21st century, cholera is very treatable. Rehydration and antibiotics could save almost all those kids, but the war has destroyed more than half the hospitals and clinics in Yemen, kept the country’s doctors and nurses from being paid for the past year, and because the threat of Saudi air strikes has closed the country’s main airport in the capital, Sana’a, and reality of Saudi air strikes has crippled the port of Hodeidah, the main route to most of Yemen’s population, help is NOT on the way.
In fact, observers say, both the frequency and the intensity of the air strikes and battles on the ground have sharply increased over the past year. Just this week, Coalition air strikes hit a civilian hotel north of Sana’a and killed dozens of itinerant farmworkers. Despite more than 2 years of air attacks like this, on the ground, the Saudi-Emerati coalition, which pays Yemeni tribesman and a mix of international mercenaries to be their cannon fodder, has gained little control over Yemen. The war is a stalemate.
But that could change, because both the coalition’s components and their Yemeni adversaries, a northern religious sect called the Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdallah Saleh, are showing signs of coming apart. In Sana’a hundreds of thousands of Saleh supporters and a smaller number of Houthi backers, many of them heavily armed, have been exchanging insults and charges of treachery, but so far at least, little lethal fire.
In the southern port of Aden, where the Saudi-supported and internationally-recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resides, rival Yemeni militias, and even their Saudi and Emirati backers who all claim to be a part of a movement to reunify the country have been killing one another. In fact, the first Saudi boots on the ground arrived only last week to try and stop this internecine warfare.
This is what former President Saleh meant when he famously described governing Yemen as “dancing on the heads of snakes.”
But, there is one glimmer of potential good news. Iran and Saudi Arabia, backers of the opposing sides in Yemen, are talking about improving diplomatic relations, with actual bi-lateral diplomatic meetings possible by the end of the Islamic Hajj in September.
One hopes progress towards peace might be swift….as literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of civilian lives are at stake.
Maggie Michael is a Cairo-based correspondent for the Associated Press (AP). She led the investigative team which uncovered the widespread use of torture against prisoners, many of them civilians, being held by Emirati forces based in al-Mukallah. One apparent aspect of the torture program is that although US personnel often interrogate prisoners, abuses never occur in the presence of Americans.