American Herald Tribune | CJ Werleman: “We are the world, we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving,” is the chorus to We are the World, a song written and produced by Michael Jackson, which brought together some of the biggest music stars on the planet together to raise awareness and money for the drought caused famine that wrought havoc on the African continent in the mid-1980s.
I was 12 years of age at the time of the song’s release in 1985. Against the backdrop of the four decades long and still then ongoing Cold War, it seemed, at least to me, that the world was capable of coming together, at least in moments, to solve and relieve large-scale humanitarian crises.
Not only did the singer raise more than $10 million, it also helped spawn a great number of humanitarian efforts to bring relief to the starving of Ethiopia.
Today a famine, one that is man-made, and one that is the sole creation of the Saudi-led coalition, threatens the existence of 20 million Yemenis. But instead of chart-topping, star-studded music video clips, Yemen’s starving and malnourished are met with total international silence.
The Saudi-led effort to break the backs of a people who are already struggling to survive in bombed out, broken state should be the world’s most talked about story, but the unfolding catastrophe there goes barely noticed.
Yemen is staring down the “largest famine the world has seen for many decades,” said UN aid chief Mark Lowcock. While the head of UN-OCHA Yemen, George Khoury, said the Saudi-led coalitions latest effort to deny or slow the arrival of food, water, and medical supplies entering the country are “bringing millions of people closer to starvation and death.”
More than 2 million children are already malnourished, and of those, nearly half-million children required medical assistance to stay alive. Images of skeletal children, their bodies emaciated by hunger are every bit as shocking and distressing as those that visited our television screens from the African continent three decades earlier.
These scenes promise to only get worse if Saudi Arabia does not ease its blockade of Yemen’s ports of entry. With aid agencies warning that the country is on the brink of realizing a “nightmare scenario.” But the Saudi strangulation of Yemen shows no sign of abetting, and the bombs keep on dropping.
Today that “nightmare scenario” inched a little closer when Saudi jets bombed the airport in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, putting it out of action, and thus further “jeopardizing relief shipments to a country on the brink of famine.”
Making matters worse is a cholera epidemic that has been described as the “largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history,” with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting nearly 1 million cases of the disease in Yemen, alongside another 2,156 that have been killed by it. WHO also declares there are approximately 4,000 additional suspected cases of cholera being reported daily.
Yemen is not only the Middle East’s poorest country, it also a nation that depends heavily on food imports and national infrastructure to carry it via rail, roads, and bridges to communities the country’s seaport, airport, and land crossings – infrastructure that has been pulverized by Saudi-US coalition bombs for the past two years.
Atop of all this, one million government employees have not received regular salaries since September 2016, and rising gas prices have made the cost of day-to-day necessities almost completely unaffordable for even relatively well-to-do Yemenis.
Yet, the famine, war, and related humanitarian crises remain far from the international community’s collective consciousness.
When I asked Mareb Alward, a Yemeni journalist based in Taiz, why he believe the crisis in his country receives far less Western media attention than the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, he told me here are two reasons that explain this.
“Firstly, the cost of the conflict here is paid by the Yemenis only,” says Alward. “For instance, the displacement of people is internal, so there is no wave of Yemeni asylum seekers arriving on Europe’s shores.” Alward explained that the country’s geographical dimensions make road and rail access to the shores of the Mediterranean impossible.
“Secondly,” added Alward, “the great powers have little interest in Yemen and therefore are unafraid of the continuation of war here. For instance, the United States looks at Yemen solely from the perspective of its own security, and not from the perspective of humanitarian concern, and thus its efforts here are focused on fighting al-Qaeda with fighter jets, drones, and small presence of soldiers.”
He also rightfully points out that the Western powers, particularly the United States and Britain, could easily put enough diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to cease its bombing and blockade of Yemen by halting arms sales to the Kingdom. But they don’t apply this pressure because both countries fear losing their number one arms buying customer – Saudi Arabia.
“As long as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council do not want to compromise their interests with regional parties that are influential in the Yemeni conflict, namely Saudi Arabia, its allies and Iran, there will be no solution soon,” contends Alward.
For now, the Saudi-led suffering in Yemen remains overlooked and forgotten. While my cynical adult self has lost faith in the willingness of the international community to do the right thing, to put human security before the pursuit of national self-interests, my 12-year-old self continues to draw naive optimism from the final verse of Michael Jackson’s Ethiopian aid appealing song, “Let us realize that a change can only come when we stand together as one.”