Destroying food of the starving in Yemen

farm animals killed
Farm animals destroyed by aerial bombardment


Since the Saudi-led coalition started their aerial assaults on Yemen on 26th March 2015, there has been an effective blockade of most goods entering Yemen, the rationale being a weapons blockade against the Houthi-Saleh alliance. As in all blockades, the people who suffer are not those fighting because they have most control of resources and take first pick. Instead the civilian population is vulnerable, especially women, the young, old and sick.  Before the war,  Yemen relied on 90% of its necessary goods as imports, so the Saudi-led blockade rapidly turned the conflict into a matter of survival for all civilians, whether in a conflict zone or not. With only 1% of Yemen’s oil needs being allowed to enter Yemen almost immediately water became a serious issue as virtually all water in Yemen is pumped from deep wells.  Additionally, this severe shortage of oil and diesel has meant that in most parts of Yemen there has been no electricity for many months, except in Eastern Yemen which is under Al Qaeda control and receives its oil from Mukalla port; and since July 2015 when parts of the southwest were recaptured from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, Aden has been allowed to import oil.  However, even in these areas electricity supply is sporadic.  Hence there has also been no means of storing perishable food, and costs of moving food and other essential items across Yemen has caused food prices to increase dramatically. Producing food internally has become expensive as diesel is needed for water irrigation purposes, and for many farms this cost has been prohibitive and production has ceased.  Additionally most companies in Yemen have been forced to close down due to insecurity or lack of resources, resulting in widespread unemployment within Yemen, making food unaffordable for many families.

Additionally, food producers, suppliers, transporters and retailers have not been spared from aerial assaults. According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development in Sana’a, in the first 300 days of war, ten ports, fourteen airports, and 512 roads and bridges were struck by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes making it more difficult to import and transport goods to where they are needed.  This is severely aggravated by the destruction of 238 fuel stations, 175 fuel tankers and 409 food trucks.  Direct food retailers have also been targeted including 353 markets and malls, and 546 food stores.  Domestic, commercial and agricultural water supplies have been challenged by 164 hits on reservoirs and water networks, and many of the 190 factories that were destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition were producing food and drinks, such as a Yoghurt factory in Hodeida, a snack factory in Sana’a, a Coca Cola plant in Sana’a, a fruit juice factory in Hodeida, and a water bottling factory in Amran.  Farms have also been targeted with 125 poultry farms hit, and an agricultural research centre in Wadi Sardol near Hodeida destroyed.  7 grain silos have been obliterated, and other food warehouses destroyed.  At least one dairy/beef herd has also been targeted.  Fishermen in the Red Sea have been targeted several times.  Each of these aerial assaults has a cost, for example, Mohammed Derham owned a fruit juice and soft drinks factory in Hodeida that was destroyed by air to ground missiles, sustaining damage worth twenty million US dollars, and forcing 1,500 employees to lose their jobs.  Some of these food producers and processors had been struggling to function under very severe conditions out of humanitarian concern for their employees and Yemeni civilians; others were closed due to the impossibilities of obtaining resources for production but had expected to restart when the situation improved.  There has also been a human cost; for example, in the destruction of a water bottling plant in Abs in the northwest, 13 workers lost their lives and in one strike on two islands in the Red Sea, 40 fishermen were killed. This loss of plant and equipment for food production is a serious issue for the duration of the war and after hostilities end.

dairy factory hodeida 2
A dairy factory destroyed with the loss of 35 lives


In certain areas this has been aggravated by local siege by the Houthi-Saleh militias who like Saudi Arabia have used deprivation as a weapon of war; in Aden at the beginning of the hostilities until July 2015, and in Taiz from June 2015 until January 2016. The Aden ordeal was ended when the Saudi-led coalition ground forces drove out the Houthi-Saleh alliance, and allowed delivery of humanitarian aid; the only Yemeni port where Saudi Arabia is not restricting imports.  The Taiz siege was helped by food deliveries to a nearby town after an agreement between the warring parties, but this required the locals from the city of Taiz to walk through mountain passes carrying food packages back to their homes; fortunately recent reports say that food has now been delivered into Taiz itself.  Although they had the means to do so, the Saudi led coalition did not air drop food directly into Taiz until mid-January when they stated that they had dropped 40 tons of humanitarian supplies; however, some parties dispute this.

An additional problem is the acute shortage of cooking fuel. In some families the only source of cooking fuel available since the start of hostilities is wood, but Yemen is not a densely-wooded land and this will have environmental repercussions; the supply is limited and cannot continue indefinitely.  Cooking gas, produced locally, is in reduced supply and expensive.  The shortages of cooking fuel means that unclean water cannot be sterilised by boiling, leading to more water borne diseases and diarrhoea and increasing the impact of nutritional deficiencies particularly relevant in small children.

What further impacts the nutritional deficiencies is the lack of available medical care. 58% of Yemenis (14 million people) had very limited or no access to health care facilities by January 2016, either because they had been destroyed (238 units including 69 hospitals), or because of the shortage of fuel, water, and medical supplies (600 units), or because of the lack of staff.  The World Health Organisation describes the Yemen healthcare system as in a state of collapse. After numerous medical facilities had been targeted, the charity MSF stated that people and staff were frightened to attend hospitals except in cases of extreme emergency.  MSF claim that they had provided the Saudi led coalition with all of the coordinates of their hospitals, but despite this three of their health facilities were destroyed in as many months.

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Caring for dehydrated children at home poses serious dangers


The effect on the population has been devastating. In a BBC documentary, a family in the northwest of Yemen stated that they now only had grass to eat.  They feared dying of starvation more than dying by bombs, because at least in a bombing raid they would all die together. According to the Famine Early Warning System Network, elevated prices for staples and reduced income opportunities are driving major assistance needs in Yemen.  In the quarter October-December 2015, all of Yemen was Acutely Food Insecure, either level 3 or 4; level 5 is famine.  This had worsened since July-September, when Eastern Yemen was only at level 2, but decreased incomes, inflated prices, virtual standstill of exports, and two severe cyclones having taken their toll on the East, which although controlled by  extremist militias has so far been relatively free of conflict and not so affected by the blockade.   The only area that has improved from a nutritional viewpoint is Aden which has received significant quantities of humanitarian aid since the port reopened in autumn 2015, with water supplies much improved, although the unstable security there is threatening this improvement.

In January 2016 a representative of UNICEF in Sanaa told me that 300,000 children under five years of age are estimated to suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition and a further one million suffer from Moderate Acute Malnutrition; made worse as 192 nutrition centres are no longer operating in Yemen. In some areas parents are treating children with nutritional problems at home – or worse, in their temporary shelters – including intravenous fluid replacement therapy, which has inherent dangers when inexperienced people infuse fluids into small children.

From time to time international organisations have made occasional appeals on behalf of Yemen, but I can find no significant press releases from any organisation since October 2015 except in the case of Taiz, thanks to a concerted campaign by activists inside Taiz and Saudi Arabian spokespersons who support the Islah militias in Taiz. Although the situation is dire in Taiz because of a ferocious ground war and undoubtedly there have been serious deprivations, ironically the humanitarian situation may be worse in other areas that have had no international spokespersons speaking on their behalf.

Yemen is in the grip of a civil war; fundamentally  a contest for power between the divisive and deposed ex-President Saleh, and the unpopular Interim President Hadi, whose fixed term presidency had expired.  The International community headed by Saudi Arabia states its determination to re-impose Hadi on Yemen as the ‘legitimate’ President, and have taken on destruction of Yemen and starvation of its population in pursuit of that unpopular objective. The generous and hospitable  people of Yemen did not want war, and did nothing to deserve what happened to them; the first most Yemenis knew that they were at war was when terrifying bombs were unexpectedly dropped on them one night by a foreign power; in many areas this has continued on a daily basis ever since. But the blockade has probably resulted in more deaths than the violence, and these are unrecorded and not publicised. Yemeni people have suffered immensely, and have shown amazing powers of resourcefulness and community mindedness to support each other through this hell that is Yemen today.   Unlike Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, they are trapped inside war, borders are fenced and tightly controlled, and no countries will allow them to travel without a visa – and there are very few embassies left in Yemen to apply for one. I heard a story today of a landlord who found a widow and her two children dead from starvation inside a room they had rented from him. How many more will have to die like this before the world opens its eyes and realises this collective punishment is being imposed on the Yemeni civilian population, about half of whom are less than 18 years old.



Talking peace whilst making war – or maybe assisting genocide. Update 17.12.15

houthi prisoners released
Recently released Houthi prisoners


I hadn’t much hope for the ceasefire and UN sponsored peace talks that both started on Tuesday, believing that it would end in nothing with all sides blaming each other; but I had to hope because Yemen needs optimism. As the week comes to an end and the peace talks and ceasefire seem to be unravelling as I predicted, it’s still hard for me to accept.  I entered my submission on the Yemen Crisis to the UK government this week; £400 million of development aid was spent on Yemen in the last five years, all now wasted as Yemen is being rapidly destroyed in this unforgiving war.

But first, I want to discuss another big story of the week; the suggestion that the British government could be implicated in providing weapons to Saudi Arabia to enable them to continue their war crimes on Yemen, despite protests from various peace and human rights organisations who repeatedly over months pointed out the illegality of many of the Saudi-led coalition’s war activities.

This was clear from the start, when Saudi Arabia immediately declared Saada governate to be a military zone although Saada was home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, most of whom had never belonged to a militia and had never threatened any other country – or person. Because of the high fertility rate in Yemen, half of the civilian population living there are and were children.  Although the coalition first dropped letters telling residents they were going to destroy their homes, there was nowhere for them to go and they either dispersed or lived in makeshift tents that have also been subject to further bombing raids; on 30th March around 200 people died when a displaced persons camp was destroyed.  Saada province is the homeland of the Bakil tribe, a Zaidi tribe from which the ‘Believing Youth’ Zaidi revivalist group emerged in the 1990s, that later developed into militia that fought in seven wars with the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia. This Shia militia became known as ‘the Houthis’, and it seems that these attacks were intended to disperse or kill their tribe.  As pointed out by Martin Shaw: “…(genocide is) a form of violent social conflict or war, between armed power organisations that aim to destroy civilian social groups and those groups and other actors who resist this destruction”. The reality in northwest Yemen has enough identifiers with genocide theory to ring alarm bells in those providing the assailants with weapons.

Further attacks on civilians that have raised the question of war crimes include the bombing of a civilian compound in Mokha on 24th July when 65 civilians died; the bombing of a water bottling plant killing up to 34 on 30th August; the aerial assault of two weddings on 28th September and 8th October killing 131 and 47 respectively.  Additionally there have been attacks on hospitals and schools, on an Oxfam warehouse, on facilities of Save the Children, on dozens of hospitals including two MSF hospitals, on schools, on cranes for unloading containers at the port of Hodeida.  Amnesty said the evidence revealed a pattern of air strikes targeting heavily populated areas, including homes, a school, a market and a mosque. Their report said that in the majority of cases no military target was nearby.  A senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera said: “Coalition forces have blatantly failed to take necessary precautions to minimise civilian casualties, an obligation under international humanitarian law. A recent report showed evidence of remnants of British bombs in civilian targets.

Additionally, a blockade of all goods entering Yemen has caused 85% of Yemenis (21 million people) to be suffering from ‘severe acute food insecurity’ and this week I read that one million children are estimated to be suffering from severe malnutrition.  Many of them are likely to die as 58% of people have no access to hospitals due to the blockade and war.  The British navy has assisted the Saudi navy with a cruel blockade to a country that normally imports 90% of its goods; ironically currently ships loaded with humanitarian aid from Britain cannot enter the port of Hodeida – the only port supplying the north of Yemen – because British ships are stopping them from doing so.

Munitions estimated to be worth £1.75 billion were exported to Saudi Arabia between January and June this year; a total order of £3.8 billion has been placed. In March Philip Hammond the Defence Secretary stated that Britain would do everything to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen except directly taking part in the conflict; in July it was reported that Paveway IV bombs were being diverted from the RAF to Saudi Arabia. The British position until recently was that Saudi Arabia had assured them that British ordinance was not being used in illegal war activity and they were relying on Saudi Arabian officials to tell the British government if they did so.

In November lawyer representing the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told the BBC:  “The UK has a very clear legal regime, and that regime says that the UK won’t provide licenses for arms exports if there is a clear risk there may be violations of international humanitarian law…the current position of the UK government is unlawful.” The Arms Trade Treaty, which came into force last December, prohibits the sale of weapons where there is a clear risk they could be used for war crimes.

Following the threat of legal action, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that “the Saudi military’s attitude to humanitarian law is careless. Officials fear that the combination of British arms sales and technical expertise used to assist bombing raids on Yemen could result in the UK being hauled before the International Criminal Court on charges relating to direct attacks on civilians.” The blaming of Saudi Arabia when the UK government has repeatedly been told of evidence of war crimes from multiple sources does not seem credible. I have heard that the government is very worried about the threat of legal action. Although the Houthi-Saleh alliance has also committed war crimes, the British government has not supplied them with weapons.

So we now wait to see what happens next. A catch up on the peace talks – the parties agreed to a prisoner swap although the Houthi-Saleh alliance has retained three senior prisoners until Saudi Arabia stops its campaign in Yemen.  Taiz can receive humanitarian aid – which can be supplied from Aden port, which the Saudi-led coalition controls.  A team has been agreed to oversee the ceasefire, consisting of members from all sides, with a Lebanese team leader.  Those reporting on the conflict seem to think that one of the problems is that the sponsors of this war are not at the table, so each party seems to be unable to make decisions without consulting people not at the talks.

And meanwhile, the violations of the ceasefire by both sides continue, with the BBC reporting that the Saudi-led coalition has made big military gains during the ceasefire. In protest at the lack of protests by the UN over these military manoeuvres, the Houthi delegates have left the peace negotiations indefinitely. The difficulty for the Saudi-led coalition is that 9 months of killing and destruction has not resulted in any gains, and they need to have gains to ‘prove’ their action was justified.  I’m not sure what will happen next; the battle remains at stalemate and the killing goes on.





Jones, A. (2011) The Origins of Genocide, 2nd Edition, Routledge, Abingdon, p20.


The rich, the poor, and the mercenaries. Yemen update 10.12.15



The Yemen war so far in brief; following a power struggle between ex-President Saleh and President Hadi (both of whom had a very tenuous claim for presidency) the very unpopular Hadi, fearing loss of power in democratic elections, asked Saudi Arabia to take his side and bomb Yemen – which they willingly and enthusiastically did, from 25th March this year.  They had already formed a coalition of GCC and other Arab states and had backing from UK, US, and France.  The Houthi militias backed Saleh, and a mix of other militias took a stand against the Houthis; this included Islah (Muslim Brotherhood), secessionist militias (Al Hirak), Al Qaeda, Da’esh, and local militias in the southwest.  The Yemen army split, most of which backed the Saleh-Houthi alliance but the Army brigades associated with Ali Muhsin backed Hadi. Al Qaeda took control of the eastern port of Mukalla and much of the large Eastern province of Hadramaut.  The Houthis held the west side of Yemen without opposition, and moved into the southwest corner of Yemen where they met with local resistance, with all sides behaving in an immoral, brutal and inhumane manner in the ground war there.


A one-sided UNSC resolution in April required the Houthi-Saleh alliance to leave all parts of Yemen which they had captured and move back to their homeland in the northwest of Yemen. The UN called Hadi ‘the legitimate President’ and did not acknowledge that this was a contested issue within Yemen. The first round of the peace talks in the summer came to nothing.  In July, ground troops entered Yemen, mostly from UAE, but also from Malaysia, Qatar and Bahrain and supported by a rag-bag of Yemeni militias; they drove out the Houthi-Saleh alliance from the port of Aden.  After the Houthis left, different militias struggled for control, including Al Qaeda.  Da’esh remains active and has claimed suicide attacks in Aden as well as other parts of Yemen. Other foci of war were in Taiz in the southwest and on route to the capital Sanaa, central Yemen in Marib where the Yemeni oilfields are, and also the army loyal to Saleh moved across the border to the Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan which historically were part of Yemen.  Most of the west side of Yemen (the Old North plus Aden and Lahj) have been bombed relentlessly by the Saudi led coalition.  Some cities have been virtually erased by aerial assaults from the Saudi-led coalition (for example in the first 250 days Saada suffered 42,500 air to ground missiles), and many other cities have been seriously damaged.

It is claimed illegal weapons have been used, for example, chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and in the crater of one bomb dropped on 20th May in the capital Sanaa nuclear materials have been found in the debris.  Civilian structures have been widely targeted, for example, homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, roads, bridges, petrol stations, factories, food stores, ports, airports, displaced people’s camps, markets, museums, electricity stations, water tanks. Many important historic buildings have been damaged and destroyed, such as the achingly beautiful 2,500 year Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site, the oldest inhabited city in the world.

Additionally, the Saudi navy commenced a blockade on Yemen in March, which had previously imported 90% of its goods, including diesel – important for electricity and to pump water, all of which is pumped from deep wells in Yemen. This blockade is assisted by US and UK navies, and enforced by the French Navy.  It has led to widespread water-borne diseases and starvation, and 85% of the 26 million people living in Yemen are suffering from acute severe food insecurity.  500,000 children currently are severely malnourished.  Very few hospitals are now functioning.  After 5 months, the UNSC was told that Yemen already looked like Syria after 5 years – and yet the world did nothing to try to stop the war.  Amnesty and HRW have claimed that war crimes are being committed and illegal weapons used, but this has not stopped the West from arming Saudi Arabia, any investigations made more difficult as Saudi Arabia was appointed to the UN Human Rights Commission in November.  An attempt to get an independent enquiry into the events in Yemen by the Netherlands was blocked by Saudi Arabia and the GCC states.

To make matters worse, on October 30th East Yemen was hit with Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Chapala; a very rare and powerful tropical cyclone which with gusts up to 250 kph became the strongest cyclone on record to hit Yemen, as well as the most powerful storm known to have existed in the Gulf of Aden. It was followed by Cyclone Megh of equal intensity a week later that particularly damaged the Yemeni Island of Soqatra, one of the top sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna.   These cyclones devastated the eastern side of Yemen, under the control of Al Qaeda but not as involved in the conflict as the rest of Yemen.

Peace talks were set for November and all sides were struggling for a better position before entering the war, with a focus on Taiz. The high casualty rate has encouraged rich nations such as Saudi and UAE to withdraw their troops, and replace them with tens of thousands of mercenaries from Africa and South America.

The talks were delayed until Tuesday 15th December. Like most Yemenis, I wait with anticipation, but realistically the outcome is likely to be both sides blaming each other for the lack of breakthrough.  This week more heart-breaking pictures of starving children, news that Yemen has completely run out of insulin for their 700,000 diabetics, more pictures of homeless children sleeping on the streets and children taking lessons inside broken buildings that should be demolished rather than housing children for several hours a day.

The American security company Blackwater has been named as supplying many South American mercenaries – promised fat pay cheques and residency in UAE as a carrot. Mercenaries from UK, Australia, Mexico, France and Columbia have been killed in the Yemen mountains this week. How can we hope for peace when rich companies are making money for providing weapons and ‘security’ and poor countries are making money for providing mercenaries?

Even inside Yemen, the main source of employment now is joining a militia or an army, with ten thousand Yemenis signing up to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in a new ‘Yemen’ army. For most in the more populous north, the Houthi-Saleh alliance is fighting against foreign invaders and military occupiers and winning support.  For those in the south, the Houthis are the cause of the war and all the damage, and they will not accept any peace except a military victory.  As for the old South Yemen that unified with North Yemen in 1990, only independence from the North will be acceptable.  Most commentators agree the biggest winner in this war is Al Qaeda, now controlling huge swathes of Yemen, and imposing a very conservative agenda on the suffering population.


The Strange Relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni tribes.

Yemen News Today

Saudi is the only country in the world named after a family – the Sauds, from the Nejd region in the middle of Arabia.  They were motivated by religious Wahhabi zeal and from 1902 the Saudi tribes started to capture much of the Arabian peninsula, which Abdulaziz Al-Saud declared to be a kingdom in 1932; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  After the discovery of oil, the tribes were rapidly pulled into the modern day. A comfortable life afforded by wealth from its large oil reserves softened the tribes who became used to a very different way of life.  Instead of fighting for power, for over 80 years Saudi maintained its position by use of its wealth to buy friends and influence, and relied on a pact with USA to defend the kingdom against any dangers.

king abdulaziz al saud King Abdulaziz Al Saud

Historically, the wealth in Arabia had been generated in the south…

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Saudi Arabia at war

Yemen News Today

By Dr Judith Brown

Saudi Arabia at war.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is the Red Sea, to the east is the Gulf of Arabia and a short border with Kuwait and Qatar, to the south-east is the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and Yemen is to the south-west of KSA. To the north, it has land boundaries with Jordan and Iraq.

map saudi arabia

Source of wealth.

KSA has large reserves of oil, believed to be about 40% of the world’s reserves, and is currently the world’s largest producer of crude oil. Whilst oil dropped significantly in price in 2014, Saudi Arabia can use its windfall of reserves saved from when the oil price as higher to finance its current spending (

Weapons procurement.

KSA has been purchasing weapons for many decades, many from US and Europe, but the rate…

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World Health Organisation warns Yemen’s health care system on the verge of breakdown

world health organisation logo

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that more than 15 million people in Yemen do not have access to basic health services, as the Saudi-led coalition continues its airstrikes against the country.

According to the health organization, one million displaced people in Yemen, with a population of about 26 million, are among those in urgent need of healthcare.

The organization said over 20 million in the war-torn country do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Millions of Yemenis are threatened by a severe shortage of medication for diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, WHO said, adding that hospitals are also struggling with essential blood supplies and trauma kits.
WHO added that 53 health facilities remain closed, while there has been a 150-percent increase in hospital admissions since March.

Dozens of health facilities have reportedly been targeted and damaged in Saudi airstrikes, while about 10 health workers have lost their lives.

WHO Representative for Yemen, Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, has warned that Yemen’s health system is “on the verge of breakdown.”

WHO earlier warned that the number of people diagnosed with dengue fever in Yemen have dramatically increased since Saudi Arabia started its military campaign against the country on March 26. The health body said more than 3,000 cases of the infection have been recorded between March 27 and June 4.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has also announced that 21 million Yemenis are in dire need of aid, adding that the country is facing “a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Riyadh started military strikes on Yemen – without a UN mandate – on March 26 in an attempt to weaken Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement and bring the country’s former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, back to power.