Zaman: The Invisible Crisis

Let’s hold the U.S. government accountable for its actions in Yemen.

by Raniyan Zaman | 11/6/18 2:00am

The photograph of Amal Hussein, an emaciated 7-year-old Yemeni girl on the brink of death, took America by storm when it was first published in the New York Times. Its wide circulation drew long-overdue attention to Yemen’s ongoing crisis — although crisis seems too small a word for it. Famine and cholera have swept the country; as of June, one million Yemenis were infected with cholera, and 18 million don’t know where their next meal will come from. Of the country’s population of 28 million, over 22 million live in dire need of humanitarian aid. The health and survival of over 80 percent of Yemeni children are at risk. The U.N. has dubbed this catastrophe the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and potentially the worst famine the world has seen in a century if the war continues. 

Many Americans might wonder what the United States is doing to help. They’re asking the wrong question. In fact, the U.S. government is directly responsible for these millions of deaths. From the very beginning of this messy, complicated and drawn-out war, the U.S. has funded those who bomb hospitals, schools, mosques and civilian communities.

The current calamity grew to an unimaginable magnitude after 2014, when the U.S. began supplying weapons and other forms of assistance to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab states fighting in Yemen’s civil war. Multiple human-rights groups have since accused this coalition of war crimes that have resulted in the deaths and injuries of over 17,000 people. The U.S. government directly enables these war crimes — as a Yemeni doctor told PBS, the missiles, planes and tanks that kill Yemenis daily are all American-made. The U.S. has even gone out of its way to directly aid Saudi Arabia’s nation-destroying war; America not only assists with intelligence gathering and the in-air refueling of Saudi airplanes, but has sent Special Forces in to intervene on behalf of the Saudi coalition. 

But the havoc wreaked on Yemen has been by no means exclusive to military engagement. Most of Yemen’s devastation arises from economic warfare. Blockades have made it virtually impossible for Yemen to accept imports, which Yemen relied on for upwards of 80 percent of its staple foods and fuel before the war. Hyperinflation severely hinders people’s ability to purchase expensive goods and to afford transportation to hospitals for care. Over a million public servants haven’t received their salaries since 2016, which has not only crippled their families but also contributed to a general deterioration of public works, including the education, healthcare and sanitation systems. Unsurprisingly, this breakdown in infrastructure has led to outbreaks of disease ravaging the nation, especially cholera. 

In short, Yemen has become a case study for the collapse of a nation. But it would be naive to believe that humanitarian organizations can single-handedly gather enough support to rescue Yemen from from its descent into deeper disaster. As Jolien Veldwijk, the assistant country director for CARE in Yemen, told NPR, “humanitarian aid is not enough to stave off the impending famine. The only way forward for Yemen is a political solution to the conflict.” And the best current political solution to the conflict is Senate Joint Resolution 54, a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee and Chris Murphy, which calls for America’s withdrawal from war in Yemen. In February, the Senate didn’t vote to pass it, but Senator Sanders has announced that he intends to bring the resolution back to the floor in November. The American people must pressure their elected officials to pass it. 

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that these human rights violations will motivate Americans to head to the polls, let alone call their senators. As the conflict draws on, Americans’ ignorance about Yemen is both staggeringly frustrating and disturbing. It reveals a general lack of attention to the international crises that our elected officials often instigate. Most disconcertingly, it reveals a lack of empathy to events outside of America’s borders — just look to the media’s lack of reporting on Yemen. The American government’s role in these atrocities is unjustifiable. President Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology is not simply bombastic rhetoric, but an extreme ideology that has real consequences for the rest of the world. The monstrosities occurring in Yemen provide chilling evidence of the Trump administration’s lack of a moral compass, one that is sure to affect the rest of the world and Americans at home. 

On Nov. 1, Amal was pronounced dead. It would be a mistake to say there are millions more just like her — she was 7 years old and irreplaceable. But there are millions more suffering just as she was. If the U.S. government doesn’t step up, it will have the blood of an entire country on its conscience.