Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Oct 31st, 2016

Starving for Humanity

There are parts of the Arab World where oil and gas revenues have generated unprecedented wealth. In parts of the Gulf, where I am currently located, young guys drive their latest model Lamborghinis as fast as they can, apartments and villas rent for prices that make Manhattan real estate look inexpensive, shopping malls boast exclusive boutiques from Paris, Milan, London and other high fashion centers. But a lifestyle of little exercise and high cholesterol food has created an obesity problem, even among the youth. Then there is Yemen, where a brutal war has created a humanitarian crisis in which people are literally starving.


Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, who is affected by severe acute malnutrition, sits on a bed at the al-Thawra hospital in the Red Sea port city of Houdieda, Yemen October 24, 2016 (REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad)

Hunger has a face. The image here is of an 18-year old named Saida Ahmad Baghili, suffering from severe malnutrition. She is a lucky one, at least in still being alive, sitting in a hospital bed in Hodeidah. Others are not so lucky, as the blockade of foodstuffs and medical supplies entering Yemen has led to food insecurity for at least half the population of an estimated 28 million. The United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands of children are facing starvation. UNICEF notes that half of Yemeni children under 5 years are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. For the past three months government salaries in Yemen have not been paid, while former President Hadi and his cronies in exile have enjoyed a luxurious existence.

Famine is now a reality in Yemen, but not due to endemic poverty. The Saudi bombing campaign has attacked Yemen’s farms and food factories. In a recent study by anthropologist Martha Mundy and Cynthia Ghariois, it has been shown that the data “is beginning to show that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.” In the past nine months alone, the Saudis have spent some 60 billion dollars for this war. Imagine how many bellies could be filled and how many crops could be planted with even a fraction of this amount.

All of this bombing has not achieved any of the goals, illegitimate as they were, that led to the conflict from the start. Yemen is now torn apart from the inside, with insecurity that has allowed radical elements of al-Qaida and ISIS to take over large parts of the country. The city of Sa’da is now a ghost town; the city of Taiz is divided like Berlin with continual fighting. Nowhere is there a safe haven, since the bombing is indiscriminate, even targeting heritage sites and funerals. All of this continues as the U.N. and Western powers fail to stop such slaughter. Indeed, the Saudis are able to buy as many weapons and military supplies as they desire. And the media is silent, as though such an atrocity is not newsworthy unless it touches Western soil.

Yemenis are starving, but not only for lack of access to food. They are starving for anyone outside their country to restore the basic humanity that makes us respect each other despite diffences. It is obvious that the Saudi elite have no respect whatsoever for the value of human life in Yemen. This should not be surprising, since their internal record of human rights violations is painfully obvious. Yet their wealth acts as a shield and the bombing continues. For those who think the suffering in Yemen can be ignored because the number of dead has not reached the hundreds-of-thousands level of Syria, think again. Watching your children starve is also a kind of death. Fearing bombing strikes that could reach anywhere at any time is a kind of death. Destroying the ability of a country to feed itself is a slow death that will stretch far into the future. Yemen will survive, but at a great cost. And we are all losers for not placing humanity above the evil of political indifference.

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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