Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Aug 31st, 2015

Running out of Patience but not Patients

Five months and counting: this is the current length of what was foolishly entitled a “Decisive Storm” bombing campaign that has wreaked more damage to Yemen than the worst possible tsunamis.


As the death toll continues to rise, disease and malnutrition increase exponentially and Yemen’s fragile infrastructure is systematically blasted away, the suffering of Yemen’s people appears to have no end in sight. Patience has worn thin to the bone, especially in Sanaa, the capital, which is bombarded daily from the air, subject to car bombs outside mosques and ruthless violence. All the political parties waging this no-win war share the blame. For the love of Yemen, the fighting should stop; but none of the warring parties shows any sign of such love of their country.

Patience may be low but the number of patients that should be receiving medical help for basic illnesses as well as the wounds of war has skyrocketed. Before the war, Yemen’s medical system was inadequate and concentrated in the major cities. Now, hospitals have literally run out of supplies, and electricity is often not available to run machines. Consider this assessment by Save the Children: “Across Yemen, 15.2 million are lacking access to basic health care, an increase of 40 percent since March. More than half a million children are expected to suffer severe acute malnutrition this year, and there has been a 150 percent increase in hospital admissions for malnutrition since March.” If you are looking for a textbook case of a humanitarian crisis, look no further than Yemen, which has now joined Iraq and Syria as a death trap for ordinary citizens.

The ethical maelstrom that surrounds the violence in Yemen is staggering. On the one hand, there is the Saudi-led coalition of oil-rich states with unlimited access to sophisticated weapons launching an air war that Amnesty International calls a war crime, while the indiscriminate bombing of the Huthi/Salih alliance is just as guilty. Compounding the suffering of Yemen’s diverse population is the callous, narcissistic behavior of the leaders of the warring factions. The rhetoric of intolerance is the language of bullies, not statesmen. In such a state of belligerence, all of the voices crying out for relief are drowned out. Individuals are frozen into enemy groups, as though calling someone a “Huthi” of “Shi’a” or “Islahi” or any of the labels in current use justifies the killing. Nothing, and it seems absurd to have to state the obvious, can ever justify killing and maiming children. A child belongs to no political party, no warring faction, no evil group; a child belongs to humanity. Stripping that humanity from children, women and men is an evil that brings hell to earth.

Then there is a further ethical block. Where is the “enlightened” and “democratic” and “human rights loving” West in this crisis? Who is speaking out against the brutality of the suffering that afflicts not only the direct victims but the millions who have become refugees? The leaders of the “free” world are silent as their countries fuel the conflict with weapons. The United Nations is so impotent in the Middle East that they might as well not even try to be present. The media are fixated on the war as a game, failing to probe the day-to-day suffering until someone crosses the border into the European zone. And the solution posed in the Eurozone is to build more walls to keep people out, the people who are fleeing conflicts supported by those building the walls.

I am not saying anything new here. This war is likely to drag on for more months and get even bloodier. My patience gave out a long time ago, but the suffering I describe continues unabated as the lights in Yemen’s hospitals are turned off one by one.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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