Yemen’s civil war, now in its sixth year, has directly affected or cost the lives of up to an estimated 100,000 people. Once again, there’s hope for a breakthrough and settlement of at least some factional differences aimed at ending the world’s most devastating civil conflict.
The challenges to U. S. public diplomacy are complex.
Washington Post correspondents Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan recently reported the latest news from Sana’a. Yemen’s longtime capital city has not only suffered from the protracted war, but today its ancient quarter is experiencing a record-breaking flash flood, the worst to strike the city in many years.
An Agence France Press dispatch from Sana’a noted that factional fighting between what is known as Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (the rebel STC) and the recognized Yemeni government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi continues to rage in a flooded Sana’a neighborhood.
The Wider Arena of the Conflict
Despite many so far unsuccessful twists and turns in U.N. efforts to achieve a civil war settlement, it essentially pits two Persian Gulf neighbors across from each other on opposite sides of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia on the western shore and Iran on the eastern coast. The Saudis have relied on support from Washington to tip the balance in their favor, and cultivated nine companion regional allies — mostly Arab states. Iran has been backed by China and Russia.
However, U. S. opposition to protracted involvement is fading, especially in Congress. Increasingly, members of Congress are saying “enough is enough” in aid to oil-rich Saudi Arabia to support the protracted conflict.
So far, the rebels appeared to have gained the upper hand in the protracted war, still occupying large parts of Yemen in its northern and western regions as well as the capitol. According to the August 21 Washington Post report, “aid cuts from donors have resulted this summer in a sharp reduction of food aid to the Yemeni people.
“If global funding doesn’t revive by September,” the Post added, “9,000,000 people will be cut off from health care, and 250,000 severely malnourished children could die, the United Nations warns. With the rainy season typically lasting from March to October, the U.N. and other aid groups are expecting outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dengue fever.
“Down one of the alleys in Sana’a Old City,” the Post reported, “Amin Alhabal was staring at a large hole in the ground where part of his house once stood. Gone was the room where they used to sell groceries, which helped support his family as well as the families of four of his brothers who all lived together — and a separate storage room.
“ ‘The room of our family’s grocery store was over a hundred years old. The other room was built when our house was built, around a thousand years ago,’ said Alhabal, a 29-year-old father of two small boys. ‘My family have lived here generation after generation, he continued. Where will we go? What will we do? Our history is about to be wiped out!’
“Other residents of the quarter echoed similar sentiments,” the Post account continued, “and said they were getting little rebuilding help from government authorities or aid agencies. Local officials told the Post they were fielding as many as 250 requests and were doing their best to rebuild under the duress of war and a shattered economy.”
There are few signs of any breakthrough in the Yemen conflict today. AP’s Edith Lederer quotes a senior U.N. official as warning that the war-torn country is sliding toward famine as the coronavirus spreads and its economy implodes — all amid a funding crisis that is forcing the United Nations to make deeper aid cuts. The AP reporter adds: “This includes stopping treatment for 250,000 severely malnourished children.”
“It is extremely disappointing that only about half of the $135,000,000 in international aid pledged by the international community in June has actually been paid,” according to Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasinghsam. “I call on all donors — and especially Yemen’s neighbors in the Gulf region — to pay all pledges now.
“In the next few weeks, cuts will go even deeper. In September, we will reduce water and sanitation programs by half in 15 war-ravaged cities. We’ll also have to stop supporting nearly 400 additional health facilities in Yemen, cutting 9 million people off health care.”
The world, and especially Yemen’s oil rich neighbors and Western donors including the U.S. and European Union are now on notice. Scholar James Dorsey sums it all up:
“Arabs know what they want… they want their basic needs for jobs, education and health care to be attended to, and they want good governance and protection of their personal rights.” Time’s up, and fleeting fast, for the most beleaguered souls of the Middle East.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More