Destroying food of the starving in Yemen

farm animals killed
Farm animals destroyed by aerial bombardment


Since the Saudi-led coalition started their aerial assaults on Yemen on 26th March 2015, there has been an effective blockade of most goods entering Yemen, the rationale being a weapons blockade against the Houthi-Saleh alliance. As in all blockades, the people who suffer are not those fighting because they have most control of resources and take first pick. Instead the civilian population is vulnerable, especially women, the young, old and sick.  Before the war,  Yemen relied on 90% of its necessary goods as imports, so the Saudi-led blockade rapidly turned the conflict into a matter of survival for all civilians, whether in a conflict zone or not. With only 1% of Yemen’s oil needs being allowed to enter Yemen almost immediately water became a serious issue as virtually all water in Yemen is pumped from deep wells.  Additionally, this severe shortage of oil and diesel has meant that in most parts of Yemen there has been no electricity for many months, except in Eastern Yemen which is under Al Qaeda control and receives its oil from Mukalla port; and since July 2015 when parts of the southwest were recaptured from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, Aden has been allowed to import oil.  However, even in these areas electricity supply is sporadic.  Hence there has also been no means of storing perishable food, and costs of moving food and other essential items across Yemen has caused food prices to increase dramatically. Producing food internally has become expensive as diesel is needed for water irrigation purposes, and for many farms this cost has been prohibitive and production has ceased.  Additionally most companies in Yemen have been forced to close down due to insecurity or lack of resources, resulting in widespread unemployment within Yemen, making food unaffordable for many families.

Additionally, food producers, suppliers, transporters and retailers have not been spared from aerial assaults. According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development in Sana’a, in the first 300 days of war, ten ports, fourteen airports, and 512 roads and bridges were struck by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes making it more difficult to import and transport goods to where they are needed.  This is severely aggravated by the destruction of 238 fuel stations, 175 fuel tankers and 409 food trucks.  Direct food retailers have also been targeted including 353 markets and malls, and 546 food stores.  Domestic, commercial and agricultural water supplies have been challenged by 164 hits on reservoirs and water networks, and many of the 190 factories that were destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition were producing food and drinks, such as a Yoghurt factory in Hodeida, a snack factory in Sana’a, a Coca Cola plant in Sana’a, a fruit juice factory in Hodeida, and a water bottling factory in Amran.  Farms have also been targeted with 125 poultry farms hit, and an agricultural research centre in Wadi Sardol near Hodeida destroyed.  7 grain silos have been obliterated, and other food warehouses destroyed.  At least one dairy/beef herd has also been targeted.  Fishermen in the Red Sea have been targeted several times.  Each of these aerial assaults has a cost, for example, Mohammed Derham owned a fruit juice and soft drinks factory in Hodeida that was destroyed by air to ground missiles, sustaining damage worth twenty million US dollars, and forcing 1,500 employees to lose their jobs.  Some of these food producers and processors had been struggling to function under very severe conditions out of humanitarian concern for their employees and Yemeni civilians; others were closed due to the impossibilities of obtaining resources for production but had expected to restart when the situation improved.  There has also been a human cost; for example, in the destruction of a water bottling plant in Abs in the northwest, 13 workers lost their lives and in one strike on two islands in the Red Sea, 40 fishermen were killed. This loss of plant and equipment for food production is a serious issue for the duration of the war and after hostilities end.

dairy factory hodeida 2
A dairy factory destroyed with the loss of 35 lives


In certain areas this has been aggravated by local siege by the Houthi-Saleh militias who like Saudi Arabia have used deprivation as a weapon of war; in Aden at the beginning of the hostilities until July 2015, and in Taiz from June 2015 until January 2016. The Aden ordeal was ended when the Saudi-led coalition ground forces drove out the Houthi-Saleh alliance, and allowed delivery of humanitarian aid; the only Yemeni port where Saudi Arabia is not restricting imports.  The Taiz siege was helped by food deliveries to a nearby town after an agreement between the warring parties, but this required the locals from the city of Taiz to walk through mountain passes carrying food packages back to their homes; fortunately recent reports say that food has now been delivered into Taiz itself.  Although they had the means to do so, the Saudi led coalition did not air drop food directly into Taiz until mid-January when they stated that they had dropped 40 tons of humanitarian supplies; however, some parties dispute this.

An additional problem is the acute shortage of cooking fuel. In some families the only source of cooking fuel available since the start of hostilities is wood, but Yemen is not a densely-wooded land and this will have environmental repercussions; the supply is limited and cannot continue indefinitely.  Cooking gas, produced locally, is in reduced supply and expensive.  The shortages of cooking fuel means that unclean water cannot be sterilised by boiling, leading to more water borne diseases and diarrhoea and increasing the impact of nutritional deficiencies particularly relevant in small children.

What further impacts the nutritional deficiencies is the lack of available medical care. 58% of Yemenis (14 million people) had very limited or no access to health care facilities by January 2016, either because they had been destroyed (238 units including 69 hospitals), or because of the shortage of fuel, water, and medical supplies (600 units), or because of the lack of staff.  The World Health Organisation describes the Yemen healthcare system as in a state of collapse. After numerous medical facilities had been targeted, the charity MSF stated that people and staff were frightened to attend hospitals except in cases of extreme emergency.  MSF claim that they had provided the Saudi led coalition with all of the coordinates of their hospitals, but despite this three of their health facilities were destroyed in as many months.

baby drip feed.jpg
Caring for dehydrated children at home poses serious dangers


The effect on the population has been devastating. In a BBC documentary, a family in the northwest of Yemen stated that they now only had grass to eat.  They feared dying of starvation more than dying by bombs, because at least in a bombing raid they would all die together. According to the Famine Early Warning System Network, elevated prices for staples and reduced income opportunities are driving major assistance needs in Yemen.  In the quarter October-December 2015, all of Yemen was Acutely Food Insecure, either level 3 or 4; level 5 is famine.  This had worsened since July-September, when Eastern Yemen was only at level 2, but decreased incomes, inflated prices, virtual standstill of exports, and two severe cyclones having taken their toll on the East, which although controlled by  extremist militias has so far been relatively free of conflict and not so affected by the blockade.   The only area that has improved from a nutritional viewpoint is Aden which has received significant quantities of humanitarian aid since the port reopened in autumn 2015, with water supplies much improved, although the unstable security there is threatening this improvement.

In January 2016 a representative of UNICEF in Sanaa told me that 300,000 children under five years of age are estimated to suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition and a further one million suffer from Moderate Acute Malnutrition; made worse as 192 nutrition centres are no longer operating in Yemen. In some areas parents are treating children with nutritional problems at home – or worse, in their temporary shelters – including intravenous fluid replacement therapy, which has inherent dangers when inexperienced people infuse fluids into small children.

From time to time international organisations have made occasional appeals on behalf of Yemen, but I can find no significant press releases from any organisation since October 2015 except in the case of Taiz, thanks to a concerted campaign by activists inside Taiz and Saudi Arabian spokespersons who support the Islah militias in Taiz. Although the situation is dire in Taiz because of a ferocious ground war and undoubtedly there have been serious deprivations, ironically the humanitarian situation may be worse in other areas that have had no international spokespersons speaking on their behalf.

Yemen is in the grip of a civil war; fundamentally  a contest for power between the divisive and deposed ex-President Saleh, and the unpopular Interim President Hadi, whose fixed term presidency had expired.  The International community headed by Saudi Arabia states its determination to re-impose Hadi on Yemen as the ‘legitimate’ President, and have taken on destruction of Yemen and starvation of its population in pursuit of that unpopular objective. The generous and hospitable  people of Yemen did not want war, and did nothing to deserve what happened to them; the first most Yemenis knew that they were at war was when terrifying bombs were unexpectedly dropped on them one night by a foreign power; in many areas this has continued on a daily basis ever since. But the blockade has probably resulted in more deaths than the violence, and these are unrecorded and not publicised. Yemeni people have suffered immensely, and have shown amazing powers of resourcefulness and community mindedness to support each other through this hell that is Yemen today.   Unlike Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, they are trapped inside war, borders are fenced and tightly controlled, and no countries will allow them to travel without a visa – and there are very few embassies left in Yemen to apply for one. I heard a story today of a landlord who found a widow and her two children dead from starvation inside a room they had rented from him. How many more will have to die like this before the world opens its eyes and realises this collective punishment is being imposed on the Yemeni civilian population, about half of whom are less than 18 years old.



Wahhabism, anti-Shia ideology, and the fate of Yemen’s Zaidi population. Update 24.12.15

saada destruction

Most of the news from Yemen this week concerns the ceasefire that didn’t happen, the promised humanitarian aid that hasn’t actually arrived, and the peace talks that have been adjourned; apart from that war and starvation as usual, except worse as the war and blockade grind on towards month ten.

Meanwhile, as Da’esh and Al Qaeda proliferate in Yemen with evidence that they have cooperated with the Saudi-led coalition in its war there, Saudi Arabia has announced that it has formed an alliance against ‘terrorism’. Rosemary Higgins states: “Terrorism is a term without legal significance. It is merely a convenient way of alluding to activities…in which either the methods used are unlawful, or the targets unlawful, or both.”   Another international legal expert, Richard Baxter, states “…the term (terrorism) is imprecise…ambiguous, and above all, serves no legal purpose”.

Many have been critical of KSA’s anti-terror initiative, which they claim is supported by 34 Muslim states. Turkish analyst FehimTastekin states: “For Saudi Arabia, the main terrorists are Shiites. At the same time, the large number of groups with Wahhabi ideology are not considered terrorists by the Saudis.”   British journalist Robert Fisk points out “…what kind of relationship do the Saudis envision with the Iranians who are fighting in both Iraq and Syria against the same Isis “terror” which (Prince Mohammed bin Salman) identifies as part of the “disease”? Neither Shia Iran nor Shia Iraq, needless to say, is part of the new international Muslim army.” Nor is Shia-led Syria, which it could be argued is the only state that is making inroads against Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia follows the Wahhabi sect of Islam, which is Sunni and conservative; one of the characteristics of Wahhabism is a negative attitude to Shia. The leader of the congregation at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Adel Al Kalbani, stated on BBC Arabic Television in May 2009 that all Shia Muslims were apostate, unbelievers, and as such should be hunted down and killed. Other fatwas include that by Saudi cleric Nasser Al Omar who called for conversion or slaughter of Shia men, sexual violation of Shia women and forced conversion of Shia children. Shia Rights Watch claims that every month 402 Shia are killed and 497 injured in sectarian violence.

Saudi Arabia has been strongly linked with the Sunni extremist militias fighting in the Middle East. US Vice President Joe Biden stated that the Saudi regime, along with others from the Middle East had “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight Assad,” naming Al-Nusra and Al Qaeda as beneficiaries.  Other observers have pointed to the similarities in the methods of rule of Saudi and the ‘Islamic State’, in crime and justice issues, and also in its anti-Shia rhetoric. This has led some academics to speculate about growing future links between Saudi Arabia and IS.  As of March 2015, a Salafi jihadi extremist militant group and self-proclaimed caliphate and Islamic state led by Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria, took control over territory occupied by ten million people in Iraq and  Syria. Amnesty International reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a “historic scale”, including attacks on Shia Muslims. According to Shia rights watch, in 2014 ISIS forces killed over 1,700 Shia civilians at Camp Speicher in Tikrit Iraq, and 670 Shia prisoners at the detention facility near Mosul. The New York Times reported “frequent accounts of (ISIS) fighters’ capturing groups of people and releasing the Sunnis while the Shiites are singled out for execution”. Although Saudi has been involved in military activity in Syria, there is skepticism that he is attacking ISIS and a belief that Saudi is supporting groups that are attacking the Syrian army by many observers.

Although in early decades, KSA used ‘soft power’ to spread its interests – such as the selective use of humanitarian aid and building Wahhabi madrassas – in recent years its policies have involved military interventions; linked to destruction of Shia communities or denying their political rights. For example, in 2011 one thousand troops from Saudi Arabia helped to crush the peaceful Arab spring protests in Bahrain, which was largely a Shia movement.  It has not offered protection for Sunni Muslims who have been oppressed by other than Shia Muslims, such as the Palestinians and Darfurians.  KSA was reported as appreciative of the massacre of Zaria Shia in Nigeria on 17th December 2015 – expressing outright support for Sunni President Bulhari of Nigeria for his fight against ‘terrorism’.

In announcing the new Islamic military alliance against terrorism this month, Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman named Yemen as one of its targets. The reality inside Yemen is that the conflict is a fight for power between two unpopular men, Shia Ali Abdullah Saleh a President deposed in 2012, and Sunni Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi who was elected as Interim President for two years in 2012, whose term has expired. The Houthi militias, who are largely Zaidi Shia, sided with Saleh, who has the support of most of the Yemen army, who are a mix of Sunni and Shia, but mostly from the old North Yemen.  Hadi, a Sunni Muslim, was supported by a Saudi-led international coalition, and from Yemen a small religiously conservative section of the Yemen army and numerous militias that are mainly Sunnis, such as Al Qaeda, Daesh, Islah (Muslim Brotherhood), other Salafist militias, and Al Hirak (southern secessionists).

The Bakil tribe from whom the Houthi movement originated are Zaidi Shia whose homeland is the governate of Saada, just south of the Saudi-Yemen border. In 1992 a Believing Youth Zaidi revivalist movement began, in response to the Wahhabi schools that Saudi had funded in Yemen. The then President Saleh attacked the Bakil tribe in 2004 with the blessing of Saudi Arabia, killing the militia leader Hussein Houthi, giving the movement its name. Yahya al-Houthi said that Saudi Arabia had put pressure on Saleh to fight the rebels in Saada. He alleged that the Saudi authorities had supported the government campaign with US$25 billion, although this was denied by Yemeni authorities.  Six wars took place in Saada, with Saudi Arabia crossing the border to join in the affray after 2009.  Many homes were destroyed; thousands of people were displaced and forced to live in camps. The Bakil tribe helped to oust President Saleh in 2012; they became active members in political dialogue in Yemen, although disappointed with the outcomes, they continued to negotiate.  At the same time, the Houthi militias built alliances with other tribes, eventually taking over much of the north and the capital, Sanaa, without opposition.  As the UN negotiations continued President Hadi, who was very unpopular, moved to Aden and then Saudi Arabia, asking his neighbour to start attacking Yemen, which they did. The Houthis followed Hadi to Aden, where they met strong resistance from local secessionists and Islah militias. Saudi Arabia started aerial bombardment on 26th March 2015. Many of the targets from the outset were Shia, for example, a displaced persons’ camp in northern Yemen was hit on March 30, 2015, ing at least 29 civilians with 41 wounded. Despite this and other serious violations of international law, the UN Security Council met on 14th April 2015, and produced a one-sided UNSC resolution, that supported President Hadi and did not take into account that his presidency was a contested issue within Yemen.

Human Rights Watch reported that on May 8, a coalition spokesman announced that the entire city of Saada was a military target. This not only violated the laws-of-war prohibition against placing civilians at particular risk by treating a number of separate and distinct military objectives as a single military target, but possibly also the prohibition against making threats of violence whose purpose is to instill terror in the civilian population.

As well as the aerial bombardment, Saudi Arabian navy, with the assistance of US, UK and France, imposed a blockade on Yemen which has dire consequences in a country that normally imports 90% of its goods, including diesel used for pumping ALL of Yemen’s water. By May 26th Oxfam put out a statement that two thirds of Yemenis had no access to clean drinking water, creating a high risk of water-borne disease.  This has resulted in diarrhoeal illnesses, untreatable as so many medical facilities have closed down, or are without medical supplies  – causing severe malnutrition in children and death.

On April 17 Saudi Arabia pledged $274 million dollars in aid for Yemen, meeting entirely the UN’s emergency “flash appeal” for humanitarian funding less than 24 hours after it was announced. But six months later, the money had not been delivered. According to a UN memo the Saudi government applied unprecedented conditions that complicated and delayed its disbursement. According to aid workers and officials, ever since its April 17 pledge, the Saudi government has pushed for restrictions on how the aid would be given out, including that it not be spent in areas controlled by Shia Houthi rebels, which a Riyadh-led coalition has bombed since late March.

On 18th August he Saudi-led coalition also attacked Hodeida, the only port which aid agencies were using to supply aid to north Yemen; some organisations called this a war crime.  The White House expressed “deep concerns” over the Saudi action. “”We are deeply concerned by the attack on critical infrastructure at the port of Hodeida in Yemen,” said a National Security Council spokesperson. “The port is a crucial lifeline used to provide medicine, food and fuel to Yemen’s population.

The aerial bombardment of Saada governate has not ceased; it has been attacked every day and night for ten months, with reports of 42,500 bombs in the first 250 days of war. An MSF radio report stated that food trucks on the way to Saada had been destroyed, as were bridges, houses, hospitals, schools, mosques, factories including those producing water and food, market places, petrol stations, and ancient monuments. Protests and appeals have been put out by a number of agencies; UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children, ICRC, WHO, Amnesty, and Human Rights Watch, amongst others but the world seems to be unable or unwilling to act in relieving  war crimes and mass starvation, especially in North Yemen. The recent peace talks in Geneva agreed to send aid to Taiz in the south, but made no mention of Saada governate where the civilian population is dying from aerial bombardment,  but more especially of the effects of the Saudi-led blockade.  One mother told a BBC reporter that hunger was the worst; she was hoping that she and her family would be killed together in a bomb attack, because otherwise, they would have to suffer seeing each other die slowly from starvation.  An attempt by the Netherlands to get an independent investigation into the human right abuses in Yemen was blocked by Saudi Arabia, who has since been elected on to the Human Rights Council at the UN.

Many of the people of South Yemen, Aden and Taiz that I communicate with often use the meaningless definition of ‘terrorism’ when referring to Houthi aggression; this term is often used by those with huge arsenals to describe the resistance of those with few military resources. This is not to excuse the Houthi acts of aggression in Yemen, but to put them into context.  Many in Taiz and Aden also describe the deaths at the hands of the Houthi militias as genocide; my assessment is that the Houthis are killing to maintain control of Yemen which they believe is necessary for their survival, and civilian deaths due to ground warfare are a result of a ferocious war inflicted on the community by fighting militias, of which the Houthis are only one.

It is in the Houthi Zaidi homeland that the word genocide could be used more appropriately; Martin Shaw believes that it is far more than killing, but is understood as destroying groups’ social power in economic, political and cultural senses. Saada, old and new, has been purposefully and almost completely destroyed.  “Genocide involves mass killing, but…is much more than mass killing.”  Deaths in the northwest from aerial bombardment are difficult to count, and from examining evidence, I believe they are seriously under-counted.  58% of the population of Yemen have no access to medical services, yet the only deaths in UN statistics that are counted in this war are those from conflict that are counted in hospitals; it is reasonable to assume that less than half of the deaths due to conflict are actually registered.  The casualties from this war do not include the deaths caused by the blockade, and it is realistic to assume that more are dying from the effect of lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of shelter, and lack of medical assistance than from the conflict itself, and that amongst these deaths there will be a high proportion of the very young.  The UN and the world appear to be ignoring the plight of Yemen’s Zaidi Shia population, whilst assisting their oppressors to continue their war unabated.











The rich, the poor, and the mercenaries. Yemen update 10.12.15



The Yemen war so far in brief; following a power struggle between ex-President Saleh and President Hadi (both of whom had a very tenuous claim for presidency) the very unpopular Hadi, fearing loss of power in democratic elections, asked Saudi Arabia to take his side and bomb Yemen – which they willingly and enthusiastically did, from 25th March this year.  They had already formed a coalition of GCC and other Arab states and had backing from UK, US, and France.  The Houthi militias backed Saleh, and a mix of other militias took a stand against the Houthis; this included Islah (Muslim Brotherhood), secessionist militias (Al Hirak), Al Qaeda, Da’esh, and local militias in the southwest.  The Yemen army split, most of which backed the Saleh-Houthi alliance but the Army brigades associated with Ali Muhsin backed Hadi. Al Qaeda took control of the eastern port of Mukalla and much of the large Eastern province of Hadramaut.  The Houthis held the west side of Yemen without opposition, and moved into the southwest corner of Yemen where they met with local resistance, with all sides behaving in an immoral, brutal and inhumane manner in the ground war there.


A one-sided UNSC resolution in April required the Houthi-Saleh alliance to leave all parts of Yemen which they had captured and move back to their homeland in the northwest of Yemen. The UN called Hadi ‘the legitimate President’ and did not acknowledge that this was a contested issue within Yemen. The first round of the peace talks in the summer came to nothing.  In July, ground troops entered Yemen, mostly from UAE, but also from Malaysia, Qatar and Bahrain and supported by a rag-bag of Yemeni militias; they drove out the Houthi-Saleh alliance from the port of Aden.  After the Houthis left, different militias struggled for control, including Al Qaeda.  Da’esh remains active and has claimed suicide attacks in Aden as well as other parts of Yemen. Other foci of war were in Taiz in the southwest and on route to the capital Sanaa, central Yemen in Marib where the Yemeni oilfields are, and also the army loyal to Saleh moved across the border to the Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan which historically were part of Yemen.  Most of the west side of Yemen (the Old North plus Aden and Lahj) have been bombed relentlessly by the Saudi led coalition.  Some cities have been virtually erased by aerial assaults from the Saudi-led coalition (for example in the first 250 days Saada suffered 42,500 air to ground missiles), and many other cities have been seriously damaged.

It is claimed illegal weapons have been used, for example, chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and in the crater of one bomb dropped on 20th May in the capital Sanaa nuclear materials have been found in the debris.  Civilian structures have been widely targeted, for example, homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, roads, bridges, petrol stations, factories, food stores, ports, airports, displaced people’s camps, markets, museums, electricity stations, water tanks. Many important historic buildings have been damaged and destroyed, such as the achingly beautiful 2,500 year Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site, the oldest inhabited city in the world.

Additionally, the Saudi navy commenced a blockade on Yemen in March, which had previously imported 90% of its goods, including diesel – important for electricity and to pump water, all of which is pumped from deep wells in Yemen. This blockade is assisted by US and UK navies, and enforced by the French Navy.  It has led to widespread water-borne diseases and starvation, and 85% of the 26 million people living in Yemen are suffering from acute severe food insecurity.  500,000 children currently are severely malnourished.  Very few hospitals are now functioning.  After 5 months, the UNSC was told that Yemen already looked like Syria after 5 years – and yet the world did nothing to try to stop the war.  Amnesty and HRW have claimed that war crimes are being committed and illegal weapons used, but this has not stopped the West from arming Saudi Arabia, any investigations made more difficult as Saudi Arabia was appointed to the UN Human Rights Commission in November.  An attempt to get an independent enquiry into the events in Yemen by the Netherlands was blocked by Saudi Arabia and the GCC states.

To make matters worse, on October 30th East Yemen was hit with Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Chapala; a very rare and powerful tropical cyclone which with gusts up to 250 kph became the strongest cyclone on record to hit Yemen, as well as the most powerful storm known to have existed in the Gulf of Aden. It was followed by Cyclone Megh of equal intensity a week later that particularly damaged the Yemeni Island of Soqatra, one of the top sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna.   These cyclones devastated the eastern side of Yemen, under the control of Al Qaeda but not as involved in the conflict as the rest of Yemen.

Peace talks were set for November and all sides were struggling for a better position before entering the war, with a focus on Taiz. The high casualty rate has encouraged rich nations such as Saudi and UAE to withdraw their troops, and replace them with tens of thousands of mercenaries from Africa and South America.

The talks were delayed until Tuesday 15th December. Like most Yemenis, I wait with anticipation, but realistically the outcome is likely to be both sides blaming each other for the lack of breakthrough.  This week more heart-breaking pictures of starving children, news that Yemen has completely run out of insulin for their 700,000 diabetics, more pictures of homeless children sleeping on the streets and children taking lessons inside broken buildings that should be demolished rather than housing children for several hours a day.

The American security company Blackwater has been named as supplying many South American mercenaries – promised fat pay cheques and residency in UAE as a carrot. Mercenaries from UK, Australia, Mexico, France and Columbia have been killed in the Yemen mountains this week. How can we hope for peace when rich companies are making money for providing weapons and ‘security’ and poor countries are making money for providing mercenaries?

Even inside Yemen, the main source of employment now is joining a militia or an army, with ten thousand Yemenis signing up to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in a new ‘Yemen’ army. For most in the more populous north, the Houthi-Saleh alliance is fighting against foreign invaders and military occupiers and winning support.  For those in the south, the Houthis are the cause of the war and all the damage, and they will not accept any peace except a military victory.  As for the old South Yemen that unified with North Yemen in 1990, only independence from the North will be acceptable.  Most commentators agree the biggest winner in this war is Al Qaeda, now controlling huge swathes of Yemen, and imposing a very conservative agenda on the suffering population.


Hidden deaths, starvation and human rights abuses – as Hadi obstructs the proposed peace talks. Update 3rd December 2015

Hayat, aged 3, lost her leg, her home, and her sister in a Saudi bomb



This week the war on Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition has passed 250 days; some areas have suffered bomb attacks every one of those days.  Saada city and much of Saada governate no longer exists – it has been wiped off the face of Yemen.  Much of the capital Sanaa is similarly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition.  I have been saying this for months; a country like Yemen cannot survive a blockade of food and other goods – now on-going for nearly 9 months.  I have been extremely touched by some posts from Yemen today. One is an interview with Fatema Al Ajal, Save the Children’s director in Sanaa, who describes the ongoing lives or ordinary people in Yemen, who are barely surviving now.  Another short video by the ICRC  called “Hayat walks again” shows a little girl – three years old -who lost her leg , her relatives and her home in a bomb raid, now learning to walk on an artificial leg, such an inspiration – and a credit to the ICRC.  And a touching short essay by the human rights activist Abdulrashid Alfaqih to his yet to be born children; about his life in Yemen, and why he is forced to live it as he does.

Save The Children also put out a statement that “UK appears to put weapons sales above the lives of Yemen’s children”.  Whilst Amnesty asks “Does the UK have blood on its hands?” stating British made bombs are hitting civilian targets, and that they are not keeping to the rules of the Arms Trade Treaty, in which UK was a leading member only two years ago.  Human Rights Watch also issued similar criticism of the UK government policy. ICRC has suffered another disaster with their staff; a kidnapped international employee, following the murder of four of their workers in two incidents earlier this year.  MSF have had another clinic bombed this week by the Saudi-led coalition, this time near Taiz, only two weeks after their hospital was bombed in Saada governate.  I read that 51 hospitals have been destroyed, and many more have had to close because of the blockade, which is not only reducing medical aid and medicines that enter Yemen at this critical time, but also the desperate situation is forcing staff to move as their homes are destroyed and their lives put at risk due to starvation.  As deaths are only counted in official statistics if registered in a hospital, this skews the death statistics as many who die are simply not counted.

In the worldwide news, the bombing of Syria has occupied many in the media, more interested in the leadership of the Labour Party that was split on the vote in the House of Commons than the consequences of the bombs.  I went on a Stop the War demonstration in Bristol this week, and I spoke to 30 groups of about the war in Yemen whilst I was there; despite the fact that these were people interested in Middle East issues, only two people that I spoke to had significant knowledge of the war on Yemen; for most it was the first time they had heard of it.   This war has been kept quite secret.  In Yemen ISIS and Al Qaeda have been fighting openly with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen – unlike Syria, rarely mentioned by our selective British media.  This week Al Qaeda gained more ground, taking control of most of Abyan governate in the southwest, including the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar, although they relinquished Jaar back to local control the following day.  At the same time Islamic State and Al Qaeda have made inroads into the rest of the southwest corner of Yemen.

As the struggle for Taiz continues, there are signs that the Saudi-led coalition is developing cracks at the top as they fail to make the rapid progress they expected.  Hadi and his deputy Bahah, the Prime Minister of Yemen are apparently not getting on, and Hadi tried to change members of the cabinet whilst Bahah was out of the country, in order to shore up his own support.  There were also reports of Saudi Arabia not liking UAE’s plan to replace its own troops in Yemen with around two thousand mercenaries from South America; yet Saudi already has its own mercenaries in Yemen from Columbia and Sudan – a united nations at war with Yemen. The UAE mercenaries are necessary because of the high death toll amongst UAE soldiers and the lack of support for continued warfare amongst the UAE public.  The new mercenaries are being trained by Columbians; USA declined to do so as it didn’t want to be implicated when atrocities come to light – as I guess they will be.  One article asked if this was how wars are to be waged in the future – rich nations paying poor nations to fight their wars for them.  How immoral can war get?

Meanwhile, it has being reported from some media outlets that Hadi is the obstacle that is hindering the start of the much heralded UN peace talks – due to take place in November and already put back till December, with no start date yet announced.  Of course, when Yemen is at peace Hadi is so unpopular that he has no hope of remaining as President. So the destruction goes on.

The reports of two battle arenas vary widely depending on who is reporting them; Taiz and the Najran area in southwest Saudi Arabia, where the Yemen army loyal to Saleh is attacking southwest KSA in retaliation for their assault on Yemen.  Both ‘sides’ claim to be killing a lot of those on the other side, and both claim satisfactory progress themselves.  There are undoubtedly atrocities on all sides in this gruesome war, and there is little chance of either side winning in the near future, whilst civilians suffer horrendously.  Especially from the blockade; 85% of Yemenis are now suffering ‘acute severe food insecurity’. Most governates have been described as on level 4 starvation for several months; I have spoken to people in Yemen who think they are witnessing famine already, with starving populations already on the move in the Tihama region.

It is sobering to think that with this level of catastrophe, that a large proportion of people in UK have not yet heard of this terrible war.  Shame on our media.


Two opposing Yemen armies – perpetual civil war or hostile partition? Weekly update 26th November

UAE training
UAE is training an new Yemen army


This week I am concentrating on the subject of mercenaries and new army recruits within Yemen, which have been major news stories in the last few days.  UAE troops were the main part of the ground forces until a short time ago, when they returned home.  In their place there is what is called an elite UAE force, and this week it was announced in Jane’s defence magazine that they are now training new recruits to the Yemeni army.  There are very few jobs in Yemen at the moment and the army is one possibility for employment.  The Yemen army split in 2011 and the major part of the original army are loyal to ex-President Saleh and are now fighting with the Houthis.  The rest – in 2011 loyal to the religiously conservative Ali Muhsin – have been fighting on the side of the Saudi-led opposition, and it is these troops that are now been bolstered by new recruits;  the first group was trained in Saudi and the most recent group have been trained by UAE in the Al Anad air base, near Aden. The recruits are selected according to their political views and their home governate.

This must have repercussions – two opposing Yemen armies with completely different loyalties, both in terms of their geographic origins, their preferred leaders and their political perspectives, surely making only two outcomes possible.  The first is a continuance of a prolonged civil war in Yemen, and the second is partition.  The choice between perpetual civil war or two hostile Yemens is a heart-breaking scenario.

Saudi is desperate to win ground from the Houthi-Saleh alliance before the UN peace talks, so they are making a big push with mercenaries from Sudan and Columbia.  If you recall, it was the Sudanese army that the Western world accused of genocide in Darfur; that same army is now fighting in Yemen with no world protests.  It was reported this week that Saudi had paid $2.2 billion US to Sudan for their support.  It was also reported that the UAE transferred 450 of the planned 800 Columbian mercenaries to Yemen this week. The mercenaries are already taking a big toll, with a reported 20 killed and 70 injured in the brutal conflict in the southwest corner. Additionally, reported by Saba news agency (sympathetic to the Houthis) was a strange affair; some of the new mercenaries in Marib were said to have demonstrated because they had not been paid as expected, and in consequence Islah militias had turned on them, killed 5, and injured 6; a blue-on-blue assault.  If this is true, it is a worrying development for the Saudi-led coalition.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in UAE this week and made an extraordinary statement that indicates that he is quite ignorant of what is going on in Yemen – or trying hard to cover it up. “We respect what United Arab Emirates has been able to do to accomplish significant progress in Yemen” he stated.  What progress is this?  Civilians killed, homes destroyed, 81% of Yemenis suffering from severe acute food insecurity – according to a UN report this week.  It seems that everyone benefits from the war in Yemen – poor countries in North Africa are being paid to take part in the war, whilst rich countries are selling weapons and munitions.  Maybe this is the progress he means?  It is only Yemenis who are suffering – and he doesn’t think this relevant?

Despite eight months of destruction and death, the war is still at stalemate. There have been pictures of rows of armoured vehicles from the coalition heading to Taiz, and a report from UAE blaming Islah militias for the Saudi coalition’s slow progress, and others blaming the landmines left by the Houthis for delays.  Later on, farmers and their children will not be able to farm these fields without risk of losing a limb – some 70% of Yemenis still work on the land. The ordinary citizens of Taiz are trapped within this war, suffering a local siege as well as the Saudi blockade, with opposing militias ferociously fighting each other next to them and bombs still destroying their homes and lives from the air. Saudi is airlifting new weapons to the militias, but is not airlifting food and medical aid to Taiz residents.  It is as if they are pawns, expected to wait for their ‘liberation’ so that they can be fed and be grateful to their saviours – whoever they might be.  And the people of the north, far from feeling compassion, think that Taiz citizens are only getting what they deserve, such is the dehumanisation of ‘the enemy’ in this dreadful war.  And life is not much better in the rest of Yemen.

For those who live in UK, like me you might be distressed to learn that the remains of a British missile was found in a ceramics factory destroyed in Bani Matar near Sanaa, evidence gathered by Amnesty indicated there were no links to any militias there.   Amnesty’s press release said this was a war crime. Fortunately, production had already stopped because of the lack of materials for making ceramics, so only one civilian was killed, with others living nearby injured, including a 14 year old girl.  330 people will have no jobs to return to because of this disaster. You may have heard the UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond say a few weeks ago that UK is relying on Saudi Arabia to tell them if they are committing war crimes with British weapons, and if they heard it was so, then then UK would review its arms sales policies.  Maybe it is that time now Mr. Hammond?

A friend from Sanaa tells me that petrol prices are lower and she was hoping that would mean lower food prices. But a news report that the Yemeni Riyal fell against the US dollar seems to indicate prices might go the other way.  For people with money, it is a struggle to find essential goods at a price they can afford. For those without money, there is little hope, and very little humanitarian aid.

The longer this war goes on, the more intractable it becomes.  The media, never very interested in Yemen in its early terrifying stages, is not likely to retain an interest now that terrifying incidents have become an every day norm, after more than 240 days of non-stop aerial assaults, a ferocious ground war, an influx of extremist militias, and an inhumane and perhaps illegal blockade leaving Yemeni people dying from starvation, dehydration, disease and conflict – and those who have survived this, left hungry and without hope.

Peace talks delayed as Saudi stocks up on bombs – update 21st November

taiz devastation
Taiz today



This week has been the same never ending reports of death and destruction in Yemen. And the UN is saying today that they peace talks – due to start next week – are now delayed until December. I guess Hadi and his powerful neighbours want to make more progress in the ground war before entering the talks, but as usual – the ground war is at stalemate. Everyone says this war can only be ended by negotiations, so why oh why do they have to kill more Yemenis before they talk, for God’s sake?


Taiz is a ferocious battleground, with both sides hoping to use any progress there as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations. I read in one paper that the Houthi-Saleh alliance are using mercenaries from Ethiopia – I don’t know if it is true – and the Saudi-led alliance is definitely bringing in mercenaries and allies from all over the Middle East, Africa, and South America. If you read newspaper articles in papers from members of the Saudi led coalition, they are winning.  On the other hand, if you read Iranian or Houthi papers and news agencies, then you would also read that they too are winning.  When I hear from ordinary Taiz people with no political affiliations, they only state that they are being killed and starved.

Hadi – who ran away from his country and responsibilities at the beginning of the war has moved back to Aden at last – he says permanently.  I guess he’s left his family safe and comfortable in Riyadh. I hope this development means that more effort will be put into security matters in Aden.  Al Qaeda is driving around openly and the Houthi-Saleh alliance are said to be approaching the city – again.  Adenis have been asked to leave their weapons at home – but with gun-toting militias around and no effective police or army, that’s a big ask.  Hadi’s return may indeed draw the fight to Aden, as he is himself a divisive figure with limited popularity and many enemies.

The Saudi bombing raids are as fearsome as ever, killing and destroying all in their wake, especially in the northwest of Yemen.  They obviously have used up lots of their bombs (they dropped 40,000 in the first seven months of war); they have now ordered another 25,140 air to ground missiles from US, including 1,500 penetrator warheads (usually nuclear tipped) and 2,000 of the huge Mother Of All Bombs, each over 1000 pounds. Total cost said to be 1.3 billion US dollars. Human Rights Watch have called on the US not to send weapons to Saudi Arabia, but I guess no-one is listening.  An Italian news outlet said the weapons are on their way already. There is the usual round of dire warnings about the Yemeni humanitarian situation – this week ICRC has put out an appeal about the crisis – as has UNICEF.  The two recent cyclones have added to the disastrous situation in Yemen. But it’s one thing making a plea and wringing your hands.  Yemenis actually need action now – they are already dying.

Hadramaut had so far has been spared from the war, but the news today is that the war has been taken to them, with suicide bombs and attacks in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Shibam and nearby Al Qatn. A home video of the attack shows it is no mini matter – some of the explosions were horrendous.  As ISIS has claimed responsibility, in the week after the Paris attacks, at least this is getting some media coverage.

The UK media this week has really focused on Paris and the events there, and I guess for people like me who are trying to get empathetic coverage of a much bigger disaster elsewhere this is frustrating.  For example, on BBC Radio 4 a man said that after two lots of bombs in 10 months, he is wondering whether Paris is a good place to bring up his children.  HELLO!!!!  People in Yemen have had massive destructive bombs every single day for over 237 days in some cities like Saada; their homes, schools, hospitals destroyed and perhaps they too think that this is not a good place to bring up children.   Some cities such as Taiz have had ground war every day for over four months, their city looking as damaged as cities in Syria after 5 years.  Don’t Yemenis and Arabs want to protect their children too?  Surely this is the reason why there are so many refugees in Europe today.

Last but not least, there is an important inquiry in UK into the government’s response to the crisis in Yemen.  Written submissions are being invited.  I shall send a submission on behalf of Yemen News Today, but other charities and organisations linked to Yemen should also send their own observations.  It may not change anything, but those of us who love Yemen must do our best to assist Yemen and Yemenis in every way we can.





Yemen update 11th November 2015.

What makes me most sad about this Yemen war is the waste of lives, the waste of talent, so badly needed in Yemen. This week there was another report of about Abduallah Al Sanbani, the talented 15 year old who had won a coveted science prize – his reward was a 5 day visit to NASA.  His ambition was to be the first Yemeni astronaut. When a wedding party was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition in his village a month or so back, he was unfortunate enough to be there.  The village was thought to be safe, as the villagers had a pact not to take any ‘side’ in this war, but to remain neutral; they had no militias or weapons there.  It was not to be. Abdullah is now in Jordan receiving medical care for severe burns affecting 75% of his body, and this week surgeons have amputated his foot and his fingers of his right hand.  Many of his relatives died.

abduallah Al Sanbani

He is one example amongst many talented children who have lost their homes, their parents and siblings, their friends, their health, their lives, their right to education, and their futures in this disgusting war. Schooling in wartime is challenging and for some, non-existent, and also many have had their university degree courses forcibly terminated due to the hostiltiies.   Every day I get requests for help – the most heart-breaking cases are those who thought they would be taking their university finals this year, only to have their colleges bombed or otherwise destroyed after four or five years of study, with no possibility of verification of their existing studies, and no money to pay course fees to start their studies all over again overseas.  There is so little I can do, except to offer encouragement, or maybe check any applications for overseas courses if they have enough money to pay for it.

But not only has future talent has been taken from Yemen; the educated sections of its population are like everyone else in Yemen starving, ill, stressed – and unemployed. There is the man who wrote to say he was a journalist with many years of experience working for an English language on line newspaper – now unemployed at the very time news needs to get out of Yemen – and more to the point, without a salary.  There is a long list of engineers who have contacted me– civil engineers, mechanical engineers, whose employment was curtailed by the war, and now, have no hope of getting employment anywhere inside Yemen.  One, who has worked in a senior project manager for many years, said “I must go overseas or we will die – we can’t get enough food. I have no money. I am willing to work at cleaning cars, anything.” I have heard this so many times – if we don’t go, we will die.  When the war first started and people lost their jobs, they lived on their savings. Now their savings are diminished or have gone, and the costs of living are escalating.  Getting out of Yemen – so difficult and so expensive to do – is the only option left for them.  There are so many refugees, and with such a movement of people from the Middle East, there is less chance of finding work anywhere – but they still see this as their only chance of staying alive.

The list goes on. An experienced teacher, with a Master’s degree and a doctorate – he has no work. Another English teacher, excellent language skills, with a Master’s degree – working but fearful of her life due to the ferocity of the bombs – she wants to leave. An  economist, just the skills that Yemen will need after the war to help its recovery  – now no employment –  his uncle has an English passport and asked if that would entitle him to bring his nephew to UK.  An army officer, seriously depressed because of the fighting, wants to leave because he fears for the safety of his two small children – and also for their educational prospects if he stays in Yemen.  A successful Yemeni businessman, his business closed due to the war, is now trying to find work in Kuala Lumpur.  A Yemeni doctor, now working in Amman, Jordan; she used to work in a hospital in Sanaa that was closed down. A businessman who had a British passport in 1967, but lost it over forty years ago; he has not felt the need to apply for another passport until now, but wonders if he could get it renewed after such a long gap.  The list is endless. They are all people that have been educated in Yemeni universities, who now see their only chance of staying alive is to somehow leave the country of their birth, and try their chance overseas.  This waste of talent, of education, is more than Yemen can bear to lose; it is in addition to the loss of its infrastructure and its industries.

The rest of the news – as all warring parties are preparing themselves for the peace talks that are scheduled for next week, they are all trying to make big gains to put themselves into a better position at the start of those talks. The Saudi-led coalition is throwing everything they have at trying to capture Taiz from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, which in turn is trying to recapture towns and cities in the southwest that it had previously lost to the Saudi-led coalition, and has also captured a town in southwest Saudi Arabia. Of course, in Yemen that means that civilians are suffering from bombs from overhead, shelling on the ground, and the effects of the blockade. Dhale in the southwest for example has seen 95 people killed in the last five days.

Unique and endangered Dragon’s Blood trees uprooted

As well as the war, Yemen has suffered its second cyclone in ten days – an unprecedented occurrence. Cyclone Megh followed Cyclone Chapala, both of them striking the Island of Socatra most severely.  This island, used to fierce winds, has now suffered massive loss of housing, and also has lost some of its unique vegetation that draws in tourists as well as scientists that help boost its economy.   And apparently, the excessive moisture is likely to cause desert locusts early next year in Yemen; a small swarm of them consume as much as a town of 35,000 people.  Is there any other disaster that can befall this troubled land

For those in UK who like me hate war, the news that will make you totally aghast are the recent statements by Phillip Hammond, the defence secretary. He states that he wants UK to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia (that is clear because we are) and goes on to say there needs to be ‘proper investigations’ into misuse of weapons and added “…we need to work with the Saudis to establish that humanitarian law has been complied with…we regularly intervene with the Saudis to encourage them to be transparent with us.”   I find this incomprehensible.  There have been reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others claiming that Saudi Arabia has used illegal weapons in this war, detailing when and where and with photographs, and also these organisations claim the Saudi-led coalition is guilty of war crimes.  But it seems that the UK government is going to take the word of the Saudis that they are behaving legally and humanely.   Hammond does not object to weapons being used to kill Yemeni people – he says that is what weapons are for.  This makes me ashamed of my own government – are these the ‘British values’ we want people in our communities to aspire to?

Another week in Yemen. More sad news. I hope that I can report positive outcomes from the peace conference next week, but I am not optimistic.  And I guess few in Yemen are.

Yemen update – 6th November 2015.

I would like particularly to dwell on the suffering of children in this ghastly war, as this week children are returning to school after an 8 month gap in their education since March.   When children stopped going to school because of the aerial bombardment, people thought it would be a short time until the war was over.  Now, 224 days later, they are still subject to a barrage of bombs, but people want to get on with their lives.  Education will still be difficult.  Many schools are destroyed or damaged, and in some areas the remaining intact schools are so far away that it will not be possible to send children to school, such as in Saada governate. Most schools do not have electricity or water, and also lack basic equipment such as paper because of the blockade.  So despite the fact that the pace of the war has not diminished and the blockade stops educational equipment from arriving, the people of Yemen do not want their children to be a lost generation and they have decided that they must go to school, whatever happens. This will not be easy, as bombs can still be heard day and night, and many children are suffering from stress because of it.  But congratulations, mabruk Yemen, on getting your schools up and running. And what courage those teachers must have.

photos 6.11.15 012

photos 6.11.15 015

Children’s lives are affected in many different ways in this war. The blockade has meant that petrol cannot be imported, and hence water cannot be pumped from aquifers.  I had water delivered direct to my home from the water authorities when I lived in Yemen, but this is a thing of the past now.  People collect water from tankers, using plastic cartons, limiting them to 5 litres a day per person – for all tasks, drinking, washing, cooking, and laundering clothes. The severe shortage of clean water has caused high rates of water borne diseases, such as diarrhoea.  The figures are shocking – half a million children at risk of severe malnutrition, and over 100,000 treated for severe malnutrition. I cannot find any figures for deaths due to malnutrition, but as hospitals have been destroyed, equipment and medicines cannot reach Yemen due to the blockade; my guess is that the death rate is high.

There is also the issue of child soldiers. They do not fight in armies as far as I know, but they do fight with militias; the Houthis have been accused by the Saudi-led coalition, but my guess is that they are fighting with other militias too. They are not forced to fight; they want to do so. The constant bombs in the north – over 40,000 have been dropped in 7.5 months – which destroy civilian homes and infrastructure – has made many in the population feel that the Saudi coalition is conducting a foreign invasion and it is their duty to fight.  Particularly in the Saada province, which has suffered wars since 2004, many schools have been destroyed and many children cannot get to school. These children work in subsidence farms or sell items in the roads to passing drivers – a mini business – and many of them are illiterate.  It is not surprising that adolescents decide to fight, as it gives them a moment of glory that they will not otherwise experience in their dreary lives.  This is not to excuse child soldiers, but it is to explain it.

And last of all, so many children have been killed in this dreadful war. Nearly 50% of the population were under 18 in Yemen; it had one of the highest fertility rates in the world. So inevitably, there are many children killed when bombs fall in civilian areas – which is caused by militias, armies, and air bombardment.


cyclone chapala2
Cyclone Chapala

As well as a ferocious ground war and an inhumane aerial assault, nature also seems to have decided to attack Yemen, this time Hadramaut, Mukalla and the Island of Soqatra, the areas so far not directly affected by war. Again, it seems that Yemen is not worthy of top slot in the news reports in UK as the news did not hit the headlines. But the cyclone has been reported in a low key manner in some media outlets.  The cyclone is an extremely rare occurrence, the first time in over 40 years.  Waves were reported as over 10 metres, winds were recorded as 140mph and over 10 years’ worth of rain fell in two days.  Many of the houses in this region are made of mud bricks, and there has been devastation of housing stock, I have been told more homes destroyed in Mukalla than in Aden, where 50% of housing stock was destroyed in the ground war there.  There was a surprisingly low death rate – just 8 deaths – as the population moved inland.  In Soqatra, used to batterings from high winds and with a good system in place for evacuation, 400 homes were destroyed.

cyclone chapala4
Devastation in Mukalla caused by Cyclone Chapala

In Soqatra, already Oman and UAE have offered assistance. It is not so easy in the mainland, because the worst hit town, Mukalla, in under the control of Al Qaeda militias, as are many areas along the southeast coast. This will make overseas relief agencies unwilling to assist because of the high risk to any workers or volunteers going there.


In the rest of Yemen, the weather has not halted the war. The ground war, with Islah mililtias against the Houthi-Saleh alliance continues in Taiz; I have regular photos of gruesome corpses burned after missiles were aimed into civilian areas. I heard news that weapons have been dropped to areas of Taiz held by Islah militias by the Saudi-led coalition; one such plane was reported as destroyed by missiles. The Taiz population have been supporters of Islah for some time, and most have a strong anti-Houthi stance.  Hence there have been photos this week of many within the population carrying munitions through mountain roads to reach militias; carried by hand or on donkeys.  It has also been reported that troops from the Saudi-led coalition have reached the outskirts of Taiz city.

And yes, the people of Taiz call the Houthis ‘terrorists’, and the bit of the army still loyal to Hadi (there are reputed to be 10,000 newly trained Yemeni soldiers) they call ‘the legitimate army’.  Those that support the Saleh/Houthi alliance call the army loyal to Saleh as the ‘Yemen army’ and the militias fighting them as ‘terrorists’.  It will take a long time for Yemeni people to put these passions behind them, and move towards peaceful coexistence.


There have been many reports of the continued air assaults, many of them targeting civilian homes, and with many civilian casualties. After seven and a half months, it is almost not news, I seem to say the same thing every week and I am fearful that some are finding this ‘news’ repetitive. For example, I was told two days ago, that there had been 120 bombs dropped on north Yemen in 24 hours.  A village south of Sanaa was destroyed by 3 missiles – the second and third a few minutes after the first, called ‘double tap’ – to kill the rescuers.   I don’t think that in any previous war there has been such non-stop bombing for so long, with some areas such as Saada still having had bomb attacks every day.  I even saw pictures of a lorry full of bee hives destroyed today.  They must be running out of targets.  In Sanaa, there was a big protest against the war and the blockade this week.

demonstration against the war and blockade in Sanaa
Demonstration against the war and blockade this week


An item that was reported in Sanaa over the last couple of days is the appearance of a Russian plane, which landed directly in Sanaa airport, rather than going to Djibouti to have its cargo checked. The mystery is how this actually happened, with Saudi controlling airspace.  After the plane landed and 20 tons of humanitarian aid delivered, it was blocked from leaving the airport by Saudi Arabia, but happily it is on its way back to Russia now, the Saudis and Russians reaching agreement, presumably.


The UN has announced that the peace talks are still going to happen, and they have named the date as th 15th November.  My thoughts are that Saudi Arabia hopes that it will have recaptured Taiz at this point, and they are making noises that sound as if they are expecting the war to end.  That won’t mean peace for many years.  The polarisation of Yemenis and issues such as the growth of Al Qaeda and the secessionist movement in the old South Yemen means that there are plenty of internal battles that are likely to keep festering. But it would be a start on  the long road to peace if the Houthi/Saleh alliance could reach some sort of agreement with the Saudi-led coalition and Hadi.   On that positive note, I will end this week’s update.

Yemen update – 29th October 2015.

saada destruction
destruction of Saada.

I will start my update on a positive note. It was my birthday yesterday and I had so many wonderful messages of support from Yemen. I just want to tell everyone who sent messages that your greetings made my day special.   I know that you have so many things to worry about, and your lives are so challenging; so I particularly appreciate that you took time to send a note to me.

A short summary of the headlines this week includes the destruction of an MSF hospital in Saada, the targeting of a coach of employees in Taiz, and bombing of fishermen in the Red Sea. There appeared to be chemical weapons used in Hodeida causing horrific injuries, and Al Qaeda is getting a stronger hold on Aden.  Columbian and Sudanese mercenaries have started to arrive in Yemen, paid by Saudi Arabia. The blockades, sieges, and ground wars unfortunately show no sign of abatement.  Yemenis genuinely and realistically fear death from conflict, starvation or disease if they stay.

Day after day I hear from Yemenis who are thinking of leaving home – on Facebook and messenger they tell me their plans, send me photos of their gorgeous children. They don’t merely want to be safe – they want certainty, their lives have been put on hold since the start of this war, and they want to get on with their lives and careers, to find work, to be able to give their children the better future that they can’t see they can achieve by staying in Yemen. The lack of hope is so stark and obvious. I feel privileged that so many want to share ideas, ask my opinions, whilst at the same time it makes me overwhelmed with sadness.  So many times I hear that people have lost their employment, and their savings are running out – or that they are working, but the money they earn is not enough to pay for the extortionate costs of living inside this ferocious war. They are aiming for a country where they can find work; any work.  A senior engineer told me that he would be willing to wash cars if that was the only work available – this is typical of the attitudes I hear.

Despite the poverty, when I lived in Yemen emigration was far from anyone’s mind. But now, everyone seems to dream of a life outside their homeland.  Recently I have helped people with applications for Master’s degrees and doctorates in Europe; discussed the pros and cons of countries that might offer asylum; given advice on how to find an overseas wife.  I’ve even had a marriage proposal or two from young men who knew my age, but didn’t know my marital status.  It shows these young men are being imaginative in their search for a better life, willing to make sacrifices for a secure future.  Such is the desperation of a population that believes that if they stay in Yemen, soon they and their family will no longer be able to afford to eat.   Not only is food in very short supply and expensive, but cooking fuel is getting more difficult to find.  People in Sanaa who cook with wood tell me that now they have to go as far as Wadi Dhar – some 20 mile out of Sanaa – to get fresh supplies.  And the people of Taiz and Saada are even worse off than those in Sanaa.


The siege of Taiz has reached desperate proportions, with an MSF aid truck refused admission to Taiz despite heavy demand for medical services, and a truck delivering bottled water to Taiz attacked by Houthi militias. Thawra Hospital was forced to close due to lack of fuel for generators.  There have been airstrikes – one of which destroyed the Presidential palace in Taiz – another part of Yemen’s history destroyed – and today there were reports of an airstrike on a bus carrying Taiz workers to their employment, with reports of 10-13 fatalities, and many other injured.

There are signs that the Saudi-led alliance is planning to move to Taiz soon, with their reinforcements of mercenaries from Sudan and Columbia – used to mountain warfare. It was reported that weapons have been dropped by air to the anti-Houthi militias in Taiz.


Saada, rarely in the mainstream news, has been widely reported this week as an MSF hospital was struck by a number of aerial bombs. Fortunately and amazingly, although there were 20 patients and 2 staff in the hospital, no-one was seriously injured or killed, although most of the hospital is entirely destroyed. This attack has been condemned by UNICEF, Amnesty and MSF. Saudi Arabia denied the airstrikes, and then said that it was a ‘mistake’ due to being given the wrong coordinates by MSF; MSF insist the correct coordinates were given.

The official death count of this war is recorded by hospitals, so the loss of this facility means that it will be even less likely that death counts will be accurate. This was the only hospital left for a population of 200,000 people in the Saada, now destroyed.

The siege of Saada continues, with insufficient food and many suffering from severe malnutrition. The destruction of the only available medical facility means that inevitably many severely malnourished children will die.


Aden has also been in the news this week, because extremist Sunni militias are exerting their control on the port city. They have ordered the recently reopened university to segregate classes; one college was bombed as a warning.   Numerous newspapers are reporting chaos caused by militia control in Aden, and this week I even noted that one Qatari and one Emirati news outlet have reported the problems there, such as attacks on a supermarket where female staff did not cover their faces.  I heard a local report – not collaborated – that there has been one beheading.


Sanaa continues to live precariously under the blockade and under a stream of bombs. Apparently Hadda Street, which was the main shopping street, the equivalent of Oxford St in London, has been totally destroyed. I also heard that a Sanaa school was destroyed this week; fortunately with no casualties. Sanaa children were due to go back to school this week after an 8 month closure, but although a small number of schools have reopened, many stay closed, and indeed, many have been destroyed.  Outside the capital, the only functioning schools  are in Hadramaut and Aden. There is no ground fighting in Sanaa yet, but the prospect  of a ground war is causing many Sanaani people to feel despair.


It has been reported that a Saudi warship has been destroyed this week, in total there have been 3 reports of ships being hit by missiles from the Houthi/Saleh alliance. Additionally, there was a report of the Saudi led coalition bombing a group of fishermen in the Red Sea, with up to 30 fatalities.


The most shocking pictures I received this week were off a young man with horrific burns. I was told this was a young man from Hodeida; it is claimed he received chemical burns from bombs dropped by the Saudi led alliance. So far this does not seem to have reached the mainstream media.

For daily news headlines, please follow my Facebook page Yemen News Today at   News headlines from all over the world are selected daily to give different and opposing views of what is happening in Yemen today.

Yemen update – 22nd October 2015.

Sudanese troops arrive in Yemen

My news from Yemen centres on five main areas this week: Taiz, Aden, Saada, the UN peace accords, and the health of King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Firstly, there has been a shift in Saudi policy this week, and I gather than officials from the UN are speaking to the Crown Price, now that King Salman is ill. There seems to be a slightly more conciliatory attitude from Saudi Arabia, who are “allowing” Hadi to attend peace talks at the end of the month.  Well, at least Hadi is going and he could not have done so unless Saudi had agreed. I also have heard rumour that the young Saudi man sentenced to death and crucifixion has been reprieved, so maybe they are starting to listen to outside opinions.

Saudi has also announced that some other armies are joining them in Yemen. This includes 300 from the Sudanese army already in Aden; eventually there will be 10,000 Sudanese. This is the very same army that was accused of genocide in Darfur.  They are mercenaries – paid by Saudi to fight.  More mercenaries are coming from Columbia – a further 800.  What is notable is that these mercenaries are from countries that are used to fighting in mountain terrain.  So now fighting with the Saudi coalition on the ground are the new 10,000 Yemeni troops trained in Saudi Arabia, the few regiments from the Yemen army that stayed loyal to Hadi, militias including Al Qaeda, Daesh, Islah, Salafist, and local militias such as Al Hirak in Aden, plus troops from UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, maybe others, and now Sudan and Columbia. It’s a bit like world armed forces attacking Yemen, especially when you include the other members of the coalition included in the bombing raids, and the assistance from US , Israel, UK and France, plus rumours that some of the militias associated with Daesh are from countries outside Yemen. I have been told that 3,000 militias who were at risk in Syria because of the recent Russian involvement have moved to Yemen. Of course, they might be returning Yemenis.

The reasons why these new troops are needed is because of the situation in Taiz and Aden.   Aden is meant to be under control of the Yemen government and the Saudi coalition, but in reality it not controlled by anyone. Instead, it has a mix of many militias stamping their authority, most of whom are extremist Sunni militias.  Some of them are fighting each other, or attacking the coalition forces.  Some very gloomy reports have come out of the port this week.  As armies of the coalition move from Aden into other areas to ‘liberate’ them, they are not able to control what is left behind.  The UAE is controlling the port area and ships are arriving, but Aden refuses to let any aid or goods move to the north. They also refuse to allow northerners to enter Aden, including those from Taiz who are suffering so terribly at the moment, and are trapped inside the city.

As Bab Al Mandab control has been wrested from the Houthi/Saleh alliance, the port of Mokha can now land vessels. It is a small port area, but it may be that many new troops from Sudan will be moving into Taiz area from this Red Sea port.

Taiz is at the frontline of the war. It is in the highlands in the southwest of Yemen, and has been under attack for many months, with control changing hands twice.  Currently the Houthis and the army loyal to Saleh control the areas around the city, and the central part of the city is controlled by local militias, mainly Salafist militias headed by Abu Alabbas, and Islah militias.  The Saudi coalition is still attacking from the air, and indeed this week dropped bombs on troops supporting the coalition, killing 40 or so it is said, and injuring more.  If you hear the news about Taiz, it sounds as if the Houthis alone are firing into populated areas only because they want to kill people, with no other fighters involved. The situation is of course much more complex than that – the Houthis and Yemen army are firing at militias inside the city, living amongst the population, whilst those militias are firing back; the people  are trapped in between. In addition to the conflict, the  Saudi led blockade and the ban on movement to the north by Aden is stopping food, petrol and other aid from arriving, and the Houthi/Saleh alliance have added a local siege of their own in an attempt to smoke out their opponents.

Life in Taiz must be the like hell. But this week there is report after report in the media about Taiz, whereas there has been a media silence. I think that means that the Saudis are preparing to go in, and justifying it by their negative portrayal of Houthi actions – incidentally, they never mention the Yemen army.  The ‘evil deeds’ are all attributed to the Houthis, which makes me think that when they win this war, Saudi will try to sanitise the army, and blame all on the Houthis – if the war ever finishes.  Asymmetrical wars are notably difficult to end.

Also from Taiz came the story of a little boy, Fareed Shawky aged six, who after being injured by shrapnel called out to his doctors “Don’t bury me!” as he was being tended in hospital. This little boy who longed to live so much died two days later of his wounds.  This sad story has widely circulated in the international media.   Let’s hope this heart-rending story helps to make the people of Yemen realise they must talk peace to prevent more tragic children’s deaths.

Saada in the northwest is as much without hope as ever – after 209 days of war, it has been reported that more than 38,000 bombs have been dropped on this governate. I mention it in comparison to Taiz, which now has relatively wide media coverage, whereas Saada still has none.  The Houthis originate from here, although initially not all from Saada initially followed the Houthis. But as the war has progressed, the local people see the Houthi militias and the Yemen army as the only ones who can protect them against the feared ravages of the invaders and aerial bombardment.  Far from the aerial bombardment reducing the support for the Houthis, it has strengthened it. Many children in Saada have not been to school since the 2009 wars, when many of their schools were destroyed in earlier wars.  Now literate and with little hope of a job, they join the militias – many of them under 18.  Sadly, it gives them status and a chance to be somebody as they see it; a fighter repelling an invading army. This does not bode well for the future, because there are so many schools destroyed all over Yemen, and this might be a pattern that emerges,  as the war drags on, and maybe after it ends.

The UN peace talks are at the end of the month. This asymmetrical war can only be ended by negotiations, and I am hoping that this might be the start of the long route to peace. Saleh and the leader of the Houthis have agreed to abide by 2216.  They can’t stop fighting unilaterally, because if they do, they will be annihilated by the extremist Sunni militias that oppose them. If a ceasefire cannot be negotiated, I fear for Sanaa and its people. The wars as in Taiz and Aden will arrive in Sanaa, with its more mixed and larger population, and there will be so much suffering and destruction.  And still, Yemen’s terrible war never reaches the top of our headlines.  It is a forgotten war, a secret war, where fighters of all sorts can act with impunity – and do.