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.


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.

Under-reporting of war deaths – or genocide?

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The estimates of numbers killed in this terrible war have varied from website to website. On the 31st July FARS news agency reported the number killed as 5313 people, most of them women and children. Al Jazeera quoted UN statistics on 27th July, stating that 3,640 have died altogether, about half of them civilians deaths. I believe both of these numbers hide the truth, and the number of those who have died is much, much higher.

Systems of recording deaths in Yemen during the war are not straightforward, hence the differences in death counts. Some agencies count deaths that have been reported in the media, but this is a multi-focal war, with both militia activity and air assaults by the coalition happening in all of the areas except Hadramaut, and journalists cannot access all areas where people are being attacked. As the war progresses, deaths in Yemen have become less newsworthy as it has become so commonplace and the Western media have not seriously tried to give the war in Yemen the coverage it deserves.  Furthermore, militias and fighting forces have an interest in under-reporting any of their own fighters killed by the other ‘side’ as militia and military deaths have a propaganda purpose; these deaths can only be estimated.

Another way of collecting information about those killed is from hospitals and medical sources. However, many hospitals have themselves been out of action, either because of destruction caused by war activity, because of loss of personnel due to the conflict, or because they have run out of medical equipment and may have disruption of water and electricity supplies making it impossible to function. Additionally, many who died at the site of an attack will not be included in hospital statistics

Then there is the nature of Yemen itself. In rural mountainous areas Yemeni families bury the deceased in their own villages, and with the ongoing conflict there is no system for these deaths to be immediately recorded. In some areas, especially the north-west, villages are inside conflict zones and not excluded from serious effects of warfare. The lack of fuel also means that moving injured to hospital is a challenge, for example, a recent report from journalist Mathieu Aikins “Yemen’s Hidden War” published by Rollingstone, stated that whilst he was in Yemen injured people were bought into a hospital in Saada from a village – he pointed to the difficulties in getting the casualties to hospital, with little petrol available, and for many the cost prohibits access to petrol. Apart from the blockade by Saudi Arabia, 180 petrol stations have been bombed in Saada area. For those few who manage to get their injured loved ones to hospital, inevitably many others will have failed and the injured may have died from lack of medical care.

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Saada has been subject to daily extensive aerial bombardment by Saudi Arabia throughout the war, causing extensive displacement of families

Aikins also points out that in the areas he passed through in the Sana’a and northwest areas almost all bridges have been bombed, making communication and movement extremely difficult. In a radio report on Radio 4 on 27th July, MSF British doctor Natalie Roberts confirmed this and also stated that it is extremely dangerous to drive along roads, because so many cars and trucks – even those with no military use – are regularly targeted.  No-one will use roads for routine issues such as reporting deaths, and with severe electricity shortages there may be no means for some villages to communicate with the outside world.

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Dr. Natalie Roberts saw food trucks that were recently bombed in Amran district, destroying desperately needed food.

The siege has also made it impossible to obtain medicines and medical equipment. This has particularly affected those with chronic illnesses. At times, medicines have been in very limited supply and even the black market has been unable to provide them. This has meant that those with chronic diseases have been at risk, and many have died. Friends have reported that most people on dialysis have died in Sana’a, and also people who need medicines such as insulin have found it difficult to obtain essential medication. Sometimes this has meant that they have had to lower their dosage or change to an alternative medication, often without access to medical advice. Because of the war, non-emergency medical treatment is restricted in many areas; it is hard to imagine that this has not resulted in deaths. These early deaths would have been recorded as due to natural causes, whereas they were due to unnatural warfare and siege conditions under which most Yemeni people are now forced to live.

Examples include a 24 year old man in Aden I know, previously very healthy, who died of malaria because he was not able to obtain medical supplies. In the Guardian newspaper it was reported that an obstetrician stated that two women had died from complications during childbirth, who would not have died but for the war. Some women will no doubt be giving birth at home because it is impossible to get to hospital, increasing risk to mothers and babies. These deaths are hidden from war statistics.

Sources reporting the humanitarian situation in Yemen point to the precarious water supply. Yemen, already short of water, has now moved into an era of critical water shortage since the beginning of war. On 26th May Oxfam reported that two thirds of people in Yemen no longer had access to clean water, and expected that this would cause deaths fromwater borne diseases. The situation has worsened since then, as some water tanks have suffered bomb damage, and the petrol needed to pump water from deep wells is in even shorter supply.   Another problem is a lack of baby milk. It was reported from Yemen sources recently that only 11.9% of Yemeni women are able to exclusively breast feed, a significant fall since last year. The shortage of water, shortage of food and ongoing stress will make it more difficult for women to produce sufficient milk for their babies. The reduction in breast feeding is life threatening for Yemeni babies, especially when it is combined with low availability of milk powders, unclean water supplies, and shortage of fuel to boil water for sterilisation purposes.

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Precarious water supply – benefactors in Yemen have supplied water tankers: people are allowed 5 litres every 3 days each. In some areas the supply is less secure due to lack of diesel for water pumps.

Food is also becoming a severe problem as normally 90% of food is imported into Yemen, and the country is under siege making imports impossible. Humanitarian aid delivery is restricted by a Saudi led blockade. Tariq Riebl of Oxfam pointed out that “People are resorting to extreme measures, principally begging. You’ll see this especially with the 1.5 million displaced people…many that have fled suddenly when airstrikes or ground combat erupted. They are leaving behind all their belongings and having no revenue source or income.” Riebl stated that it is difficult to know how many people are dying from the effects of food deprivation because many parts of the country are not accessible and he continued: “The airstrikes have covered the entire country…so it’s difficult to give you an exact figure. In terms of classification, right now 10 out of 22 governorates are classified as Level 4. Level 5 would be famine. Level 4 is critical emergency level. And the rest of the country is in Level 3, which also would be already considered past the emergency threshold. Yemen is one of the most food insecure countries in the world, if not the most.”

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UNICEF: 1.3 million children on verge of severe malnution, 16,000 currently being treated, 30.7.2015

As the blockade has reached its fourth month, the effects of the blockade are now causing severe disruption to the food supply and much suffering, and inevitably deaths.  Humanitarian aid is said to be arriving in Aden but people there are telling me, and many others tweeting, that they have not yet received help.  Food is increasingly expensive in the capital Sana’a, and most residents there are without employment or income, relying on savings.  Those who still draw government salaries are mostly not working, and fear their salary will stop as the Houthi led administration is running out of money due to the blockade.  Food trucks moving in Amran province have been regularly bombed, according to Natalie Roberts of MSF, creating a disastrous food situation there.  The only area which is not under strict blockade is in Hadramaut, where food is entering via Mukalla.  The east has a low population as it is a largely a desert region. Although many internally displaced have moved there, this area is not receiving any humanitarian aid.  Displaced people in Hadramaut are mostly living on limited savings, rents are extremely high, and food is very expensive, so even in the most stable area in Yemen food security is an important issue.

The ongoing Saudi air bombardment is also causing many deaths, most of them civilian.  No area is spared except for Hadramaut in the east, which has had minimal bombing raids so far. For example, in Mocha on the Red Sea coast on 24th July a bombing raid killed between 60-120 civilians, and injured many more, some of whom are seriously ill and with the shortage of medical care it is likely that the death toll will rise.   This was not an area where Houthi militias were found; the persons living there worked in an electricity power plant.

Does this amount to genocide?  According to the UN:

Genocide is defined in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The Saudis are particularly targeting the Zaidi population in the northwest of Yemen, destroying homes, schools, petrol stations, hospitals, roads, factories, shops, mosques, historical artefacts, a refugee camp and vehicles. Although it was reported that those in Saada were given notice that their homes were about to be destroyed by leafleting prior to main bombing raids, the people living there had few choices. Some organisations claim that the bomb damage in the northwest amounts to war crimes. The majority of people in targeted areas lost their homes, belongings, sources of employment, and income. The destruction of their homes destroyed shelter for families in a hot desert region in midsummer; in winter, high mountainous areas can also experience cold conditions and night frosts, making life without shelter challenging all year round. With the loss of their homes, families also lost access to water, electricity, and cooking facilities. Whilst some of the displaced have moved to the capital Sana’a and other cities, they would not be able to escape to the more stable area of Hadramaut due to their tribal and religious identity, as that area is controlled by extremist Sunni militias with strong anti-Shia sentiments and a fear of Zaidi spies. A large proportion of the displaced from Saada area have remained in the northwest, finding or building temporary shelter with limited resources. Some have formed camps near to the Saudi border, as many have relatives in Jizan and Najran who might offer them sanctuary, but currently I understand they are denied entry into Saudi Arabia, and a wall prevents them from crossing the border.

IDPs are living in tents and home made shelters, with very little protection from the elements.

Many that remain in the northwest are now trapped, as the severe shortage of petrol, the high cost of travel by bus, and the targeting of vehicles for air attacks on all local roads means that escape is challenging even if living conditions are life threatening. The low numbers of refugees crossing borders only reflects severe travel restrictions, and does not imply that the conditions in Yemen are better than in other war-torn countries such as Syria. The northwest of Yemen is suffering severe problems with food and water supplies, not only because of the Saudi led blockade that is affecting all of west Yemen, but also because of damage to roads, and targeting of food trucks. Despite the extensive damage here, the bombing raids continue and like those living all over Yemen the Zaidis are suffering severe stress as they listen to the warplanes circling overhead on a daily, even hourly, basis.

It is difficult to argue that these conditions are compatible with life, and desperate appeals have been put out by a number of organisations, including Oxfam, UN, and WFP, ensuring that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, including US and UK, must be aware of the seriousness of this man-made crisis. Particularly the lives of the very young, the very old, and disabled have been and are seriously at risk.   Additionally, with many hospitals and clinics destroyed, there is little medical input to help the vulnerable overcome these threats, and as the siege proceeds more of the population will become vulnerable.   It is hard to argue that continued military strikes and ongoing siege in the face of this evidence can be anything other than intentional, as described in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948).

There is impelling evidence that members of the Zaidi population have been killed, and most have suffered serious bodily and mental harm by the destruction of their homes and the on-going blockade, and continued bombing attacks. It is hard to understand the purpose of the air attacks unless it was calculated to inflict on the Zaidi conditions of life that would bring about their physical destruction, in whole or in part.  Additionally, the nearest border is the Saudi border, and the desperate and displaced are not allowed to cross it.

There are also many reported civilian deaths at the hands of the various militias, including the Houthis, in areas of conflict. This has resulted in damage to a significant numbers of homes and other buildings, reduced access to fuel, food, water, and medical assistance, and some civilians have been killed by militias, as well as militias killed whilst fighting each other. Also, many families in the southwest are displaced because of militia activity, and found it difficult to escape horrendous living conditions because of the conflict and siege, as to escape they had to pass through dangerous areas where militias were fighting each other. All of these factors have resulted in Yemeni deaths and suffering, particularly in Aden, Lahj and Taiz. Whilst the actions of militias were often inhumane and brutal, it is more difficult to link this to genocidal intent, as all militia fighting on the ground is primarily designed to control through war rather than to eliminate any particular group within the population. Opposing militias were fighting each other, and additionally, these areas were also subject to air attacks by the Saudi coalition and the Saudi led blockade; hence it is far less clear where boundaries for responsibilities lie.

Meanwhile, in UK, the Disasters Emergency Committee has not yet had a charitable appeal to help the severe disaster that has been inflicted on Yemeni men, women and children. Politicians and the media are not telling it how it is. I find this inexplicable.