U.S. must stop supporting Saudis' war on Yemen as COVID-19 hitting the poor nation

April 15, 2020 - 0:25

The United States should step up immediately and withdraw support for the Saudi war efforts in Yemen as the war-hit country has registered the first cases of coronavirus infection which can kill millions of Yemenis easier than any other nation, an expert in the battlefield issues underscored. 

Bonnie Kristian, who is a fellow at Defense Priorities and contributing editor at The Week, wrote in her article in The Hill that the small Middle Eastern nation of Yemen was in dire straits even before the novel coronavirus pandemic began. One of the poorest countries in the region, Yemen has suffered more than five years of civil war; foreign military intervention and blockade; severe shortages of food, medicine, and clean water; and a deadly cholera epidemic.

Yemen’s plight was already deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations and now there could be a deadly COVID-19 outbreak, Kristian whose works have been published by CNN, Politico, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Defense One, and The American Conservative went on to say.

This pandemic has proven a formidable foe for the health-care systems of advanced, stable nations like Italy and the United States, let alone Yemeni whose medical facilities have already been under-resourced and overwhelmed with war casualties, cholera, and other communicable illnesses.

Yemen desperately needs peace and open supply lines for its potential fight against COVID-19. Now more than ever, Washington must end its enablement of the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen’s conflict and support a peaceful, diplomatic resolution with the immediate opening of Yemen’s airports and seaports for humanitarian aid. Riyadh has recently shown fresh interest in leaving Yemen even as it continues its air campaign. U.S. departure could tilt the scales toward peace.

The best preventive measure to control the spread of the novel coronavirus is hygiene, but the war has mired Yemen in filth. Pumps to sanitize the water supply sit idle for lack of fuel, while maintenance agencies tasked with chlorinating aquifers go without salaries and supplies. The situation has not improved in the three years since, especially as U.S.-supported Saudi airstrikes have targeted crucial water treatment facilities.

Vital infrastructure isn’t all the Saudi-led intervention has destroyed: The coalition’s airstrikes have a high rate of civilian casualties. The attack on a school bus that killed 40 children in 2018 was merely the most infamous of its genre. The U.S.-backed coalition has also hit hospitals, funerals, weddings, schools, markets, refugee camps, and residential neighborhoods, and it has continued to do so since the bus strike caused global outrage.

In March, a Saudi strike in northern Yemen killed 31 civilians, 19 of them children, and injured another 18 kids. “It was an attack on a civilian-populated area where children were in the vicinity,” UNICEF reported at the time, which is to say, a tragedy that could have been avoided.

The scarcity of food and medical supplies caused by the Saudi coalition’s ongoing air-and-sea blockade has compounded Yemeni deaths by illness and violence alike. The UN estimates a Yemeni child under 5 dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes like hunger and infectious disease. Medical workers have gone years without proper equipment or salary, and now they will likely have to grapple with coronavirus, too. “The test of coronavirus is expensive and it is not widely available in Yemen,” Yemeni pharmacist Nasri Abdulaziz told "Middle East Eye," “so I think the cases will appear suddenly all at once and then we will face real trouble.”

There is no overnight fix for Yemen’s misery. But the single most effective way to help Yemen now is for Washington to stop supporting the Saudi-led coalition intervention. Without U.S. assistance — which has included weapons provision, naval blockade, refueling planes for airstrikes, drone strikes, and intelligence sharing — the coalition could not continue its fight in Yemen, at least not anywhere near its present scale.

If Washington withdraws, it will give Riyadh a new urgency in its peace talks with the Houthi movement. At the very least, the U.S. exit would make the Saudi stranglehold on much-needed food and medical supplies far more difficult to sustain, giving the Yemeni people a fighting chance against COVID-19.

Washington can and should stop contributing to the Saudi-led intervention immediately for Yemen’s sake and our own. The Obama administration should never have gotten entangled in this war in the first place; the Trump administration should not have continued it.

According to the Anti War on Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition’s unilateral ceasefire in Yemen took effect, and violence seems to be slowing down, even though the Houthi movement in Yemen has denied the ceasefire, and says they don’t consider the Saudi announcement to be complete.

The Houthis argument is that the Saudis are continuing to use military force to enforce a nation-wide naval blockade and that so long as that continues, they don’t consider it a complete ceasefire.

The ceasefire was made in part because of concern that fighting would worsen the coronavirus pandemic in Yemen. Given Yemen’s medical shortages, this could be a disaster, though, with the naval blockade intact, Yemen will remain vulnerable either way.

According to local media outlets, Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen since March 2015 to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed more than 20,000 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children. Despite Riyadh's claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters, Saudi bombers are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructure.

Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with more than 22 million people in need and is seeing a spike in needs, fueled by ongoing conflict, a collapsing economy and diminished social services and livelihoods. The blockade on Yemen has smothered humanitarian deliveries of food and medicine to the import-dependent state.

The UN has repeatedly criticized the Saudi-led military coalition's bombing campaign and placed it on a blacklist of child rights violators last year.

A UN panel has also compiled a detailed report of civilian casualties caused by the Saudi military and its allies during their war against Yemen, saying the Riyadh-led coalition has used precision-guided munitions in its raids on civilian targets.

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