U.S.-Backed “Relentless War” in Yemen Causing Widespread Threat of Starvation

The United Nations has warned that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. Nearly 20 million people are at risk of starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Last month, the U.N. declared a famine in parts of South Sudan. Earlier this week, aid officials said they’re in a race against time to prevent a famine brought on by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war and blockade. Almost 19 million people in Yemen, two-thirds of the total population, are in need of assistance, and more than 7 million are facing starvation.

Last month, the U.N. declared a famine in parts of South Sudan, but O’Brien said the biggest crisis is in Yemen. Earlier this week, aid officials said they’re in a race against time to prevent a famine brought on by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war and blockade. Almost 19 million people in Yemen, two-thirds of the total population, are in need of assistance, and more than 7 million are facing starvation—an increase of 3 million since January. The executive director of the World Food Programme said her agency had just three months’ worth of food stored and that officials were only able to provide hungry Yemenis with about a third of the rations they need. This all comes as the Trump administration is seeking billions of dollars in cuts in funding to the United Nations.

Joel Charny talking:

Stephen O’Brien described it very well. In four countries, because of conflict—only in one case, Somalia, do we have drought, which is also driving the deprivation. But in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northern Nigeria, millions of people are on the—are on the brink of famine, largely because of the disruption of food production, the inability of aid agencies to get in, and just ongoing conflict, which is making life a misery for millions of people.

It’s been a relentless war, with violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudis and the coalition that they’re a part of, as well as by the Houthis that are resisting the Saudi assault. And from the beginning of the bombing—I mean, I vividly remember, when the bombing first started, in—within the space of a couple weeks, the warehouses and office buildings of three or four nongovernmental organizations working in Yemen were hit by the Saudi assault. And what’s happened, Yemen imports 90 percent of its food even in normal times, so this is not so much a disruption of food production, but it’s a disruption of commerce due to the bombing, due to the blockade, due to the movement of the national bank from Sana’a down to Aden. And taken all together, it’s just creating an impossible situation in a country that’s completely dependent on food imports for its survival.

At this point, really the only solution is some kind of agreement between the parties to the conflict—the Saudis and their allies and the Houthis. And over the last year, 18 months, several times we’ve been close to seeing an agreement that would at least produce a ceasefire or end some of the relentless bombing that’s been going on. Yet, every time, the agreement breaks down. And, I mean, this is a case where if the war continues, people will die from famine. I don’t think there’s any question about that. We just have to find a way for the war to end. And right now, there’s just a complete lack of diplomatic effort to try and solve this situation. And I think, as a humanitarian representing the Norwegian Refugee Council, we can do what we can, you know, in the face of this conflict, but the fundamental solution is an agreement between the parties that will stop the war, open up commerce, you know, have the port be open, and allow, therefore, the aid machinery from the World Food Programme and nongovernmental organizations like NRC to function.

it needs to be stressed that this is not something that, you know, started on January 20th. Humanitarian agencies in Washington, you know, myself and my colleagues, we’ve been pointing out, dating back well into the last year of the Obama administration, that, you know, the bombing campaign was leading to an untenable humanitarian situation, and the U.S. support of that bombing campaign was highly problematic from a humanitarian standpoint. So, you know, this is something that the U.S. has been driving for some time. And again, as with many things right now, it has to be seen within the context of the war or the proxy war between, you know, the Saudis and Iran for control and supremacy in the Middle East. The Houthis are perceived as an Iranian proxy. Many dispute that, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is an ongoing war that seems unable to be resolved. And we need—and again, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the U.S. Perhaps it can come from the U.N. under the leadership of their new secretary-general, António Guterres. But we need a diplomatic initiative as it relates to Yemen to avert the famine.

United Nations budget will come out tomorrow, but the report is that there will be a 50 percent cut across the board in Trump’s budget for 2018. Now, the U.S. is a very significant supporter of the humanitarian arms of the United Nations, as well as the U.N. across the board. But in the context of 20 million people being on the brink of famine, you’re proposing to cut funding for the high commissioner for refugees, the U.N. refugee agency; for the World Food Programmme, that Ertharin Cousin represents; and for UNICEF. And those three agencies are, on the U.N.’s behalf, on the front line of responding to the situations that we’re talking about. So, to call this ill-timed is an incredible understatement. I mean, to—and the other rumor, Amy, is that, you know, there are going to be devastating cuts to the U.S.’s own humanitarian funding through agencies like the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the refugee bureau at the State Department. So, we’re anxiously awaiting the release of the Trump budget tomorrow, but it—we’re obviously quite concerned that, in the context of the massive need that we’re facing and the normal U.S. leadership that we see in responding to famine situations, these cuts, not just for the U.N. but also for domestic—you know, for our international response agencies in the U.S. government, will be devastating.

South Sudan is a place where, you know, there was so much hope in 2011, when the country was founded, after years of support from around the world, including from the United States. And basically, the leaders of South Sudan decided that they would rather fight over ultimate control than govern their country in a way that worked for all their people. So, South Sudan is a classic example of another famine or food shortage that’s driven purely by conflict in this—with an ethnic dimension, but also a political dimension, unresolved political conflicts within the South Sudanese ruling class that date all the way back to the ’90s, that were covered up during the independence struggle but have since emerged.

And again, in South Sudan, we face just immense logistical difficulties in reaching people, like the woman you just showed. And we have to overcome obstacles from the government itself. We have to overcome logistical difficulties. We have to make sure that we can work safely in the midst of conflict. And South Sudan has oil. South Sudan has relatively fertile soil to feed itself. And the issue is just the inability of the authorities, and working with the—with outside aid agencies, to come together to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan. And it is a desperate situation. Of the four—of the four countries that we’re discussing, South Sudan is the one place where a famine has officially been declared in one part of the country, affecting 100,000 people.

Somalia is the one place, I think, where a rapid response actually can make a difference, because the—although there is conflict in Somalia, the famine threat this time, the severe drought, is mainly in parts of the country that are reachable by the government, as weak as it is, and reachable by the international aid community. So if we’re able to mobilize quickly—and this is what everyone’s saying right now—if we’re able to mobilize food and cash quickly, we can—we can overcome the situation of Somalia, in Somalia, if we get—if we get moving.

In Nigeria, it’s a question of—you know, Boko Haram is disrupting areas in the northern part of the country. There’s been a response by the Nigerian government that has, you know, led to people being driven into camps and away from their homes. And because of the conflict there, food production has been disrupted. It’s very difficult to reach people. And again, from the perspective of an outside agency like Norwegian Refugee Council, the key in northern Nigeria is either to reach some kind of peace agreement or at least a way to prosecute the war that doesn’t disrupt life in villages and doesn’t harm people who are so vulnerable.

as people have pointed out, four of the six countries in the ban are currently in conflict, in which the U.S. is involved. And our view on the ban is very simple. The people in these countries and, indeed, refugees worldwide are among the most vulnerable in the world. They are vetted before they come to the United States. And it’s just an absolute priority, from our standpoint, that the U.S. remain open to the most vulnerable refugees and that we have an immigration program from these countries that allows people to reunify with their families, to study in the U.S. and so on. So, you know, this contrast between assaulting—you know, having wars going on, yet not being able to be a safe haven, is obviously a clear and worrying contrast.

Joel Charny
director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.

— source democracynow.org


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