Updated: Feb 26, 2019
I am writing this piece as a proud second-generation Yemeni-American who is educating herself on the current humanitarian crisis in Yemen and attempting to spread awareness and take action. I have not always been so aware of Yemen’s history and culture and in fact, had to often point out where Yemen was on the map to my neighbours and classmates, but I am now completing the second year of my Master’s in Middle Eastern International Relations and could not be more inspired to learn about the beautiful country from which my dad’s side of the family originates.
Yemen has been the poorest country in the Gulf region for a while due to a variety of factors. For the last two decades, Yemen has relied heavily on foreign aid from the IMF and the World Bank. Drought and previous civil wars have caused the production of its main export, coffee, to decline rapidly and for qat, a narcotic plant which consumes high amounts of groundwater, to increase and become the main export. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh embezzled between $32-$60 billion through corruption in his 33 years of power, in which he received kickbacks from oil contracts and embezzled public funds. Once he had stepped down, political transfer to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi ultimately failed due to continued corruption, terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and continued extreme poverty and food insecurity. The Shi’a Zaydi Houthi rebel group took over the capital, Sana’a, in 2014, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. Today, Yemen is embroiled in a four-year-long devastating civil war which has exacerbated poverty, corruption, violence, and famine.
Growing up, my dad reminisced on his childhood in Aden, a coastal city in the south of Yemen. His stories were full of emotion and longing, and I desperately wished I could visit. The primary factor preventing us from visiting was the racist and harsh treatment my dad faced upon returning to the US after visiting Yemen in early 2002. We were not yet American citizens and in the wake of 9/11, my dad faced additional “security” measures at the airport every time he travelled for work, which included pat-downs, questioning about his background, and in this particular case, detainment at the airport. Therefore, he feared the same humiliating treatment for our entire family if we travelled to Yemen and back to the US.
The world waking up to the atrocities in Yemen has taken far too long and we have not only ignored Yemen, but we have actively taken a part in the blockade of food, medicine, and resources as well as the incessant air strikes through arms sales and political support of the Saudi-led coalition. Through selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US are knowingly participating in this worsening crisis. Saudi Arabia has blockaded the port of Hodeidah, where prior to the war, 90% of imported food arrived in Yemen. According to the United Nations, 75% of the population, approximately 22.2 million people, needs humanitarian assistance, and 17.8 million do not know where their next meal is coming from. Increasingly limited access to clean drinking water has produced the worst cholera epidemic in a century. Despite the growing humanitarian crisis, Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes have destroyed hospitals, schools, homes, and even entire villages, preventing necessary medical aid from being distributed and children from attending school.
If you're asking, "What can I do to help?" there are a number of ways to get involved:
Educate yourself. Research the causes of the current situation and why it is so difficult to get food and medicine into the country and accurate information out. This BBC article is an excellent introduction to the conflict. I cannot count the number of ignorant and insensitive comments I have read, especially with the photo the New York Times posted of the Yemeni girl who was essentially skin and bones and has since passed, such as "why aren't mothers feeding their children?" (Hint: food prices have risen inextricably and the Saudi blockade has prevented food and aid from coming into the country). 14 million people, or 50% of the population, are on the brink of famine. This means they are already dying from starvation and there are reports of families eating leaves to survive. Understand how dire the situation is and that is necessary to act now.
Pressure your lawmakers to take action and end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The US and the UK are especially complicit in this trade. Stop asking "why aren't the surrounding Gulf Arab countries helping?" We have seen how this logic has failed in past humanitarian crises such as blaming the wealthy Gulf countries for not taking in high numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and in this case, they are fully complicit in the crisis. It does not take long to call or email your lawmakers.
Find organisations to support. I am currently fundraising for Yemen Aid, who provide medical, water sanitation, and food care. UNICEF, the International Committee for the Red Cross, CARE International, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, and the International Rescue Committee are all great NGOs to learn more about Yemen and to support financially. There are great organisations that work to end arms trade as well such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
To be honest, I am frustrated with how it has taken years to wake up and acknowledge how grave of a problem this is. I can no longer sleep at night knowing that my tax dollars are going to support a regime which bombs entire villages, school buses full of children, and actively prevents civilians from getting medical aid for the worst cholera outbreak in a century.
We must take action to hold those accountable for creating and sustaining this war and humanitarian crisis and do everything in our power to help the Yemenis. With love,