Millions of Yemeni children are starving, for which the U.S. bears much responsibility.
Most Americans have only the faintest notion of the American drone war that has been raging in Yemen for the last six years.
Fewer still are aware their government has been supporting a Saudi-led invasion of Yemen for almost two years running with arm sales and logistical support. And perhaps the best kept secret of all is that the Saudi attack and related fighting has led the World Food Program to declare 14 million Yemenis at risk of hunger, with half of them on the brink of famine.
Millions of Yemeni children are at risk of starvation, and according to UNICEF, a Yemeni child is already dying every 10 minutes and at least 462,000 are suffering from “severe, acute malnutrition.” The world has not seen anything like this since the Ethiopian famine of the eighties, with countless images now emerging of barely human looking children, who under the best of circumstances will already be stunted for life.
The famine has grown slowly and imperceptibly amid the recent American elections and horrors of Aleppo and is now just breaking into public view. But the Obama administration and its British partners have known about it for months and have recently begun to rebuke the Saudis and pull some arms sales. However, America still helps the Saudi-led coalition of Arab states with intelligence, logistical support, pilot training, and helicopter sales. If it is eventually found the Saudi attack on Yemen is genocidal in intent, then Obama officials may also be held accountable.
And there is good reason to believe this famine is not accidental.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, with a poverty rate of over 50 percent. Located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, it was divided into two countries until the end of the Cold War, when both states merged under the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, North Yemen’s head-of-state since 1978. Its poverty and internal divisions made it a ripe target for Al-Qaeda operatives in the early 2000’s, and the U.S. began assassinating them through targeted drone strikes in 2009. America became further entrenched when the Arab Spring erupted in 2011 and Yemenis pushed out their leader in an internationally negotiated transition.
The government of Saleh then joined with what many believe to be Iranian backed Houthi rebels and America lent its support to the new Hadi administration. That support increased when Houthi rebels took over the government and the Saudis invaded in the winter of 2015. It all sounded reasonable to many in the American foreign policy establishment at the time, as America was supporting an internationally backed government and democratic elections, while preventing the takeover of the country by dangerous jihadists.
But all of that has changed with the brutal disregard for Yemeni life so recently displayed by the Saudis.
Prior to the Saudi invasion, Yemen already faced high population growth, food and water scarcity, widespread poverty, and economic stagnation. And these have been exacerbated by a Saudi naval blockade, putatively meant to keep out arms but also preventing desperately needed food supplies from reaching the country, 90 percent of which are imported. Even when the food makes it through, Saudi destruction of critical infrastructure, like bridges and ports, makes it difficult to reach populations displaced by the fighting. The Saudis have assaulted cities, putting poverty stricken urban residents on the run in a country that is already resource poor. And they have targeted civilian gatherings, like a wedding party in which they killed 140.
The crisis in Yemen is complex, so it has been easy to treat the famine as a mere accident of war and consequence of state failure. But famines are seldom accidental and almost always preventable.
Perhaps the world’s foremost scholar of famines, Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate in Economics for his work on the issue, notes that famines are almost always political and easily preventable. When food is not reaching a population it is because the powers that be are either using it as a weapon or suppressing critical information relating to the famine. Sen is famous for having first noticed that no major famine has ever occurred in a democracy, arguing this is because information on the famine always gets out when there is freedom of speech and the press. The corollary is that famines have been quite common under colonial regimes, which may be the best way to think of what is happening in Yemen: foreign powers control the country and their backers at home are reluctant to view the famine as stemming from political causes.
Famine in Yemen seems less a consequence and more a weapon of war.
Secretary of State Kerry has repeatedly pressed for cease-fire agreements, which would allow desperately needed aid to reach starving populations, but his efforts have been contradictory, pressing for cease fires while at the same time arming the most dangerous power. And they have been subverted by warring parties.
It is difficult to imagine President Trump exercising the same caution and restraint. Far more likely, he simply will not care and will back the Saudis to the hilt. But if that is the case, he may find himself overseeing a full-on genocide with millions of children dying before the court of world opinion. If the Obama administration has contributed to the crisis reluctantly, Trump may do so wholeheartedly. And it is quite possible his business interests in Saudi Arabia will lead him to give the thumbs up to their most brutal tactics.
The idea that millions of people might up-and-die in a famine in this day and age might seem simply unimaginable.
And this is how it may have appeared to Chinese officials in Mao’s Great Famine, which killed 45 million from 1958 to 1962. Information from the countryside was suppressed or ignored, as completely irrational economic policies collapsed the rural economy and market for food. As reports of starvation rolled in, Chairman Mao drifted into denial amid a nightly orgy of hedonistic delights in which he stopped bathing and brushing his teeth.
If the Obama administration cannot end the fighting now by dropping support for Saudi Arabia, it is quite possible history will repeat itself in another country on the other side of the world, also upended by civil conflict and revolutionary changes.
America is in crisis and Americans may simply ignore the famine amid an onslaught of pernicious legislation. It is quite possible if Trump has a conscience, he would drift into the same escapist denial as Mao. But Trump has shown little regard for life and has already praised several dictators who have committed genocide, from Saddam Hussein to Bashar Al-Assad.
President Obama needs to quit Yemen now or risk America’s first genocide of the twenty-first century under Trump.
Donate to any of these crisis appeal funds. I just donated to Save the Children. ~ ed.
Author: Theo Horesh
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren