The last couple of weeks have seen much of the news cycle dominated by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. The one murder has again drawn attention to the brutal nature of the Saudi regime and questions have arisen as to the United States alliance of convenience with the kingdom. The USA is now having to walk a delicate line: the regime is unsavoury and there are human rights abuses that the USA should try and stop, but it can’t push too far as Saudi Arabia is a regional ally against the Iranians. Or, as it was so delicately put once, “although they might be SOBs, they are our SOBs”.
But while the Khashoggi murder was in the news, the ongoing civil war in Yemen has continued almost unnoticed (although we have blogged about it before), a civil war in which Saudi Arabia is deeply involved. In 2015 the conflict escalated after rebel Houthis seized the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee the country. A Saudi-led coalition has backed the government, while Iran has supported the rebels.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and wounded, 1.1 million people are suffering from a cholera outbreak and now the largest famine the world has seen for a century is threatening the country. According to the UN, the number of deaths linked to food-related factors is rising and the number of people in the country entirely reliant on aid for survival is three million higher than previously thought. 14 million people are now facing “pre-famine conditions” according to Humanitarian co-ordinator Mark Lowcock. This means that they are entirely reliant of external aid for survival.
Further, longterm reliance on survival support is seeing the immune systems of millions collapse – making them more susceptible to malnutrition, cholera and other diseases. There is no way of knowing how many Yemenis are dying of hunger since only half of Yemen’s health facilities are working and many are too poor to access these facilities. If a death occurs at home it is unlikely to be reported.
Of course, the major thing standing in the way of averting this humanitarian crisis is the ongoing civil war. There is continued fighting around the rebel-held port city of Hudaydah, through which 90 percent of the country’s food was traditionally imported through. Not anymore. While we are distracted by its heinous crimes elsewhere, the world continues to ignore Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflict affecting millions on its southern border.