By Marina de Regt
“The world has completely forgotten us,” my Yemeni friend Fatma told me last Thursday. A day later an airstrike hit one of the most important telecommunication buildings in the port city of Hodeidah, causing a complete black out; both telephone and internet services were down for more than three days.
I had contacted Fatma via Whatsapp to ask her about the impact of the recent attacks on the capital Sana’a. The attacks, carried out by the Saudi-Led Coalition (SLC), were a retaliation to the missiles the Houthis had fired at the United Arab Emirates at the beginning of the week. The Houthis are an insurgence movement that has been fighting the legitimate government of Yemen for years. As a response to this, and in order to restore the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have started a full-fledged war, that has been going on since March 2015. The United Arab Emirates are part of the SLC and therefore an important player in the war.
Yemenis all over the world are concerned about their family and friends, and so am I. Yet Fatma is right that most of the world seems to have forgotten about Yemen; who cares that a population of 29 million people has been going through the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people in need of any kind of humanitarian assistance (food, shelter, health care), more than 8 million people in famine, 3 million people internally displaced, and other shocking statistics that go beyond our imagination?
“Nobody knows how we are living, Marina,” Fatma told me. “We are hit from all sides, there is no diesel, no gas, no electricity, no water, and the attacks have started again. Last night we couldn’t sleep, each hour of the night there were attacks. And while the media reports that there are 10 people killed, in reality more than 50 families died. There is no public transport anymore, if I want to go somewhere I have to walk. I really don’t know how we can survive.”
Fatma’s messages have always been a source of information for me. While most of my Yemeni friends refrain from detailed reports about the situation on the ground, she does not seem to be afraid for repercussions. “Please tell people in your country how we are living,” she says, even though she has in fact given up all hope that the world is going to care about Yemen and bring an end to the war.
In the past few days, I was invited by the Dutch public radio (Bureau Buitenland and the news, on the NPO) to comment on the situation in Yemen following the most recent attacks. I have used Fatma’s words to give some insight in the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster Yemen is going through, yet I cannot help but notice that I am repeating myself for years. And just like all Yemenis I ask myself each time: Can it get worse? How long must it take for the world, and in particular the international community and those who are in power, to put an end to this war?
The answer that most of us know, fear, and do not want to accept is that the powerful parties in the war (in particular Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, but also smaller countries), have little interest in ending it. The Yemen Armstrade Watch reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among the largest customers of the European arms industry, and several of the major weapon systems used in Yemen have been made in Europe. While the Netherlands does not directly sell weapons to these countries, it is a well-known fact that Dutch companies sell communication systems to Saudi Arabia which are used in the war in Yemen. Other important reasons to continue the war are the geopolitical interests of regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, but also those of Western countries, which are interested in the still unexploited oil resources in Yemen and in its strategic location at the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.
The economic and political interests that are at stake seem too high to bring this war to an end. And this is the answer that many Yemenis over the past seven years have also come to understand. Fatma’s statement that the world has forgotten about Yemen just needs a small addition: the world is closing its eyes on what is happening because it prefers not to see it….
Marina de Regt is associate professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and a member of the Standplaats Wereld team. She regularly writes and speaks about Yemen.