Yemen: The Forgotten War

Emma Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief

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As an eager freshmen in high school, I was excited with the prospect of my first history project. The task? Create a presentation on why a UNESCO site was placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger. My site? The Old Walled City of Shibam. The city’s innovative mud high rises were built in Yemen 400 years ago, forming what one explorer called “the Manhattan of the desert.” However, as I researched, I became more and more horrified by the civil war endangering Shibam. After the Arab Spring failed to reform the government, Houthi rebels overthrew the government, igniting a civil war in which Iran supported the former and a Saudi-led coalition supported the latter. And yet, after I gave my presentation, my mind became occupied by the next test. Someone else would surely take care of Shibam. 

One morning this fall I walked downstairs to make breakfast and saw the haunting stare and defined ribs of Amal Hussain, the Yemeni child whose photograph by Tyler Hicks appeared on the cover of the New York Times. Caught up in the bustle of life, I too had forgotten the Yemeni Civil War. According to the International Rescue Committee, 85% of the Yemeni population have no access to basic healthcare. The UN Human Rights Council has said that Yemeni citizens are subject to “unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law.” Politically unstable and suffering economically, Yemen has been bombed and its citizens have been dying, lacking clean water and food. The more I looked at Amal’s haunting stare, the more urgent the issue became. 

Currently, the US aids the Saudi coalition with arms sales, intelligence, and until recently, aircraft refueling. However, on August 28, 2018, a UN report suggested that the coalition and the Houthis were guilty of international war crimes including inordinate civilian casualties from US fueled airstrikes. Consequently, the US could be implicated in these charges. Congress will soon vote on a resolution that may stall arms sales to Saudi Arabia partially because of the Yemen civil war but mostly because of the Trump administration’s dismissive stance on the murder of deceased journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. UN peace talks will soon take place in Sweden between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. While peace talks seem like a step forward, aid is an immediate necessity. According to UNICEF, every ten minutes another child in Yemen dies from a preventable disease caused by the civil war. Though the US provides aid to Yemen, the collapsing infrastructure and Houthi and coalition restrictions on aid dispersal limit how well US and other nations’ aid reaches Yemeni civilians. As a result, Congress must vote to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the humanitarian crisis among the reasons for the resolution. In doing so, the US can stop contributing to the harm the civil war has caused the Yemeni people and begin to rectify the humanitarian crisis. The resolution would do more than set a precedent, allowing Americans to wholeheartedly support the UN’s peace talks to ensure a ceasefire and, more immediately, force the Saudi-coalition and the Houthis to lift restrictions on the dispersal of humanitarian aid.

This all could be accomplished by continuing and expanding the photojournalism endeavors of The New York Times. Though news of war’s atrocities is often stifled by censorship like that of Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, journalism in all forms, be it Hicks’ photo of Amal or Kashoggi’s critique of Saudi Arabia’s censorship, can paint a clearer picture of conflicts and governments around the world. Journalism can reveal Yemen’s destruction at the hands of the Houthis and the coalition and inspire Americans and other nations to pressure the UN Security Council to ensure a ceasefire between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government and help the Yemeni citizens rebuild their nations and heal their wounds. 

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