You know the Middle East is horrendously chaotic when a war which has cost over 2000 lives and, according to the United Nations, left over 6.5 million people at risk of starvation and most of a country’s entire population of 23 million in need of humanitarian assistance is a secondary news story given the ongoing catastrophe and worsening crisis in Syria.
The country I’m referring to is Yemen. That already poor and destitute land and its people have had to endure an immensely difficult year. Following the coup and subsequent takeover of large parts of eastern Yemen (including the capital city Sanaa) by Houthi rebels about a year ago the Saudi Arabian-led multinational coalition (most of the Gulf monarchies, Egypt, Senegal and Sudan) has, since late March of this year, been trying to uproot the Houthis through air strikes. This ongoing process has, however, added to the instability, destruction and misery in the country. The blockade they have imposed to try and pressure the Houthis have – as sweeping blockades and sanctions regimes tend to do – hurt the ordinary people much more than those it was ostensibly intended to.
Then there are the ongoing aerial bombardments.
In scenes uncannily like, only much worse, the mistaken bombing by the U.S. Air Force of the Deh Bala wedding in Afghanistan in 2008 (which led to the deaths of 47 innocent Afghans, 39 of which were women and children) the coalition recently pummeled wedding tents full of people in a Yemeni village. Given Yemen’s traditional society men and women are segregated at such functions, the coalition struck the tents full of women and children, killing up to 130 of them. Such a horrific slaughter cries out for scrutiny of the wider operation which caused it.
As is the case in most wars there is little regard for the safety of the Yemeni people. In this case however the coalition air strikes have caused much more destruction and carnage than Houthis have since attempting to seize power. On the surface it seems that all the coalition has done since their operations against the Houthis began last March was simply blockade and bombard and hoped by doing those two things the Houthis would simply fall from, or relinquish, power. Instead what they have actually done is destroy the infrastructure, caused a humanitarian crisis of which even a poor country like Yemen hasn’t had to deal with for some time. Not only that, their bombing has seen to Islamists sympathetic to Islamic State (ISIS) capitalize on the chaos caused by the bombing to themselves target, through organized car bombing, the Houthis who they despise given the fact they come from a sect of Shia Islam, the branch of the monotheism they consider heretical.
While the majority of the air forces of the coalition carrying out these strikes are modern American-made jets, the damage that have caused in Yemen is not unlike that caused by the Syrian Air Force which has been indiscriminately bombing urban centers under the command of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and killing innocents for years now. Whole areas have been bombed to heaps of rubble and even the immensely valuable cultural heritage of Sanaa, which like Aleppo or Damascus are very old yet continuously-inhabited cities. The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO world heritage site which has now suffered irreparable damage as a result of the continued aerial bombardments. Those same buildings withstood the test of time and obstacles posed by thousands of years of history. But not this war.
There is something oddly Marxist about seeing the richest of the rich of the world’s Arab states on the one hand (the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar) bombing with advanced warplanes the poorest of the poor of Arab countries on the other. While Yemen was in a poor and quite chaotic state before this air war began and has long been a very poor country anyway it’s clear that the damage caused by this bombing has done little more than push them closer to the edge if not over it already.
Such a dire humanitarian crisis is indicative of what the blockade coupled with the aerial bombardments has done to Yemen’s people, society and culture. And while I compared the damage done to urban areas and cultural heritage by aircraft to similar incidents in Syria overall the death toll caused by the bombings is minuscule compared to that conflict. However those yet to die as a result of undernourishment or lack of basic necessities will likely prove to be much higher, and much more difficult to account for.
In other words, the dying in Yemen is not likely to stop when the bombs finally cease falling and the blockade is finally lifted. But those two things will nevertheless have been major contributing factors to it on top of the wanton destruction that have already afflicted on that war weary people.