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.


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 www.facebook.com/yemennewstodayenglish/   News headlines from all over the world are selected daily to give different and opposing views of what is happening in Yemen today.

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Monday 27th July.

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme 6.44-6.49 today. An item on Yemen. Please note: whilst it is laudible for the Today programme at last to do an item on Yemen, and it is excellent, why oh why put it on at 6.44, when the highest listening time on the Today Programme is an hour later. You can listen to this piece by going to BBC Radio 4 and move the cursor to 6.44.am.

amran province
The people of Amran province are desperate after daily bombing attacks by the Saudi coalition.

More than 1600 people have been killed in Yemen in the last 3 months. Many of them have died in Saudi airstrikes on cities controlled by the Houthi rebels, including the capital Sana’a. The Saudis, who support the country’s now exiled President Hadi oppose the Houthis that they think are backed by Iran. Given ongoing fighting and risk of kidnap by Islamic extremists very few Western journalists are in the country but with the help of her mobile phone as a recording device Dr. Natalie Roberts with Medicine Sans Frontieres has given an account of her life in North Yemen to our correspondent Mike Thompson.
NR “I am in the MSF car now heading out of town to visit the health centre that’s out in the countryside”. 36 year old Dr. Natalie Roberts from Wrexham is in Amran province just north of Sana’a but her work in providing emergency health care takes her all over this dangerous terrain. “The roads are targeted, cars are often hit and as I’m driving now I can see a truck that was bombed a few hours ago, still burning. It was carrying apples and wheat, the sacks of wheat are on fire. Every few hundred metres you see another burned out vehicle. Every single bridge on the road has been bombed out. It’s just an intimidating experience to drive up and down this road and be aware that at any minute an aeroplane could be coming. We have a flag on the roof but it doesn’t feel that it gives me much protection when you arrive at scenes like this.”
NR. “I’m in the Emergency Room at the Health Centre that we have been supporting in the mountains of North Yemen, really quite near the border. It’s an area that has had very heavy bombing. All the villages and towns nearby sustain air strikes most days.”
MT. With little or no mains electricity in Yemen, clinics like this rely on noisy generators running on scarce and very expensive fuel supplies. Many of them needing emergency help here are young children.
NR. “There’s a six year old boy here with a piece of shrapnel in his eye that he sustained this morning. It means he has lost his eye. He’s being very brave, he’s lying on a bed covered in blood and his mother is talking to him. We have already had three trauma cases this morning and it’s 11.30am. ”
NR. “That’s the call to evening prayer you hear all around Yemen. Today it’s more exciting for people because the rumour is a ceasefire has been declared. There’s a strong rumour it will start this evening. Everyone is very much in hope of that. This is a desperate population and they need some respite from the fighting.”
NR. “Morning now, it’s really quiet. Last night at midnight we were all hoping that this ceasefire that was about to be implemented, but by three o’clock in the morning I started to get text messages saying that there was more planes bombing in Sana’a and Saada governates. Really, really disappointed.”.
MT. There was some brighter news from Aden recently, when a ship carrying UN food supplies finally managed to get through to the port after waiting for weeks, but it has been estimated that the continuing violence threatens the survival of six million people across the country who are in urgent need of help.
NR. “Lunchtime and there’s a warplane circling overhead again. It happens at least once an hour. This place really makes me concerned about planes because you know that if a plane is flying overhead it’s a warplane. There’s no other planes flying over Yemen just now. So you are just waiting for the bomb to drop.”
MT. Dr. Roberts previously worked in Syria and Ukraine and will spend another month in Yemen with this threat as she tries to help local people, who are too afraid or unable to leave their homes. But given the daily risk to herself, does she think of abandoning her contract and getting out?
NR. “All the time, yes, I’ve been having these moments for the last three years. Often there’s times I lie there particularly at night when there is bombing and I think I don’t quite know why I am here. But this is the first place I have been to with no media. I just haven’t met a journalist at all. That means it’s not in the public eye. The public should be aware of the disaster and the crisis that is happening in this country.”.