What makes me most sad about this Yemen war is the waste of lives, the waste of talent, so badly needed in Yemen. This week there was another report of about Abduallah Al Sanbani, the talented 15 year old who had won a coveted science prize – his reward was a 5 day visit to NASA. His ambition was to be the first Yemeni astronaut. When a wedding party was bombed by the Saudi-led coalition in his village a month or so back, he was unfortunate enough to be there. The village was thought to be safe, as the villagers had a pact not to take any ‘side’ in this war, but to remain neutral; they had no militias or weapons there. It was not to be. Abdullah is now in Jordan receiving medical care for severe burns affecting 75% of his body, and this week surgeons have amputated his foot and his fingers of his right hand. Many of his relatives died.
He is one example amongst many talented children who have lost their homes, their parents and siblings, their friends, their health, their lives, their right to education, and their futures in this disgusting war. Schooling in wartime is challenging and for some, non-existent, and also many have had their university degree courses forcibly terminated due to the hostiltiies. Every day I get requests for help – the most heart-breaking cases are those who thought they would be taking their university finals this year, only to have their colleges bombed or otherwise destroyed after four or five years of study, with no possibility of verification of their existing studies, and no money to pay course fees to start their studies all over again overseas. There is so little I can do, except to offer encouragement, or maybe check any applications for overseas courses if they have enough money to pay for it.
But not only has future talent has been taken from Yemen; the educated sections of its population are like everyone else in Yemen starving, ill, stressed – and unemployed. There is the man who wrote to say he was a journalist with many years of experience working for an English language on line newspaper – now unemployed at the very time news needs to get out of Yemen – and more to the point, without a salary. There is a long list of engineers who have contacted me– civil engineers, mechanical engineers, whose employment was curtailed by the war, and now, have no hope of getting employment anywhere inside Yemen. One, who has worked in a senior project manager for many years, said “I must go overseas or we will die – we can’t get enough food. I have no money. I am willing to work at cleaning cars, anything.” I have heard this so many times – if we don’t go, we will die. When the war first started and people lost their jobs, they lived on their savings. Now their savings are diminished or have gone, and the costs of living are escalating. Getting out of Yemen – so difficult and so expensive to do – is the only option left for them. There are so many refugees, and with such a movement of people from the Middle East, there is less chance of finding work anywhere – but they still see this as their only chance of staying alive.
The list goes on. An experienced teacher, with a Master’s degree and a doctorate – he has no work. Another English teacher, excellent language skills, with a Master’s degree – working but fearful of her life due to the ferocity of the bombs – she wants to leave. An economist, just the skills that Yemen will need after the war to help its recovery – now no employment – his uncle has an English passport and asked if that would entitle him to bring his nephew to UK. An army officer, seriously depressed because of the fighting, wants to leave because he fears for the safety of his two small children – and also for their educational prospects if he stays in Yemen. A successful Yemeni businessman, his business closed due to the war, is now trying to find work in Kuala Lumpur. A Yemeni doctor, now working in Amman, Jordan; she used to work in a hospital in Sanaa that was closed down. A businessman who had a British passport in 1967, but lost it over forty years ago; he has not felt the need to apply for another passport until now, but wonders if he could get it renewed after such a long gap. The list is endless. They are all people that have been educated in Yemeni universities, who now see their only chance of staying alive is to somehow leave the country of their birth, and try their chance overseas. This waste of talent, of education, is more than Yemen can bear to lose; it is in addition to the loss of its infrastructure and its industries.
The rest of the news – as all warring parties are preparing themselves for the peace talks that are scheduled for next week, they are all trying to make big gains to put themselves into a better position at the start of those talks. The Saudi-led coalition is throwing everything they have at trying to capture Taiz from the Houthi-Saleh alliance, which in turn is trying to recapture towns and cities in the southwest that it had previously lost to the Saudi-led coalition, and has also captured a town in southwest Saudi Arabia. Of course, in Yemen that means that civilians are suffering from bombs from overhead, shelling on the ground, and the effects of the blockade. Dhale in the southwest for example has seen 95 people killed in the last five days.
As well as the war, Yemen has suffered its second cyclone in ten days – an unprecedented occurrence. Cyclone Megh followed Cyclone Chapala, both of them striking the Island of Socatra most severely. This island, used to fierce winds, has now suffered massive loss of housing, and also has lost some of its unique vegetation that draws in tourists as well as scientists that help boost its economy. And apparently, the excessive moisture is likely to cause desert locusts early next year in Yemen; a small swarm of them consume as much as a town of 35,000 people. Is there any other disaster that can befall this troubled land
For those in UK who like me hate war, the news that will make you totally aghast are the recent statements by Phillip Hammond, the defence secretary. He states that he wants UK to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia (that is clear because we are) and goes on to say there needs to be ‘proper investigations’ into misuse of weapons and added “…we need to work with the Saudis to establish that humanitarian law has been complied with…we regularly intervene with the Saudis to encourage them to be transparent with us.” I find this incomprehensible. There have been reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and others claiming that Saudi Arabia has used illegal weapons in this war, detailing when and where and with photographs, and also these organisations claim the Saudi-led coalition is guilty of war crimes. But it seems that the UK government is going to take the word of the Saudis that they are behaving legally and humanely. Hammond does not object to weapons being used to kill Yemeni people – he says that is what weapons are for. This makes me ashamed of my own government – are these the ‘British values’ we want people in our communities to aspire to?
Another week in Yemen. More sad news. I hope that I can report positive outcomes from the peace conference next week, but I am not optimistic. And I guess few in Yemen are.