When Saudi Arabia formed a coalition in March 2015 to lead the military operation dubbed “Decisive Storm,” its aim was to end the Yemeni Houthis’ control over a number of cities in Yemen and ultimately restore the ousted government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Little did they anticipate that after three years and thousands of casualties they would still be waging war and devastating the country.
The Saudi-led coalition engaged in the conflict under the pretext of counteracting Iran’s expansionist leverage by means of its proxies, which would bring Iranian threats to the borders of Saudi Arabia and alter the structure of Sunni societies in the region.
The war in Yemen is now entering its fourth year, and the fighting drags on, threatening to devour the entire country. The Coalition’s leaders may originally have thought that crushing the Houthi rebels would not be that complicated. This is at least what the name of the operation suggests: a “storm” does not ordinarily last long, and “decisive” has the connotation of producing a definite result in a reasonable timeframe. The reality of the situation indicates otherwise: the war drags on, airstrikes eliminate not only rebels, but civilians as well, human corpses fill in the streets, and the country is being further devastated.
The U.N. estimated that human casualties in Yemen reached 10,000 in 2017. The U.N.’s humanitarian affairs office asserted that this figure was based on data gathered from health facilities that kept track of their dead. However, there are other health centers and facilities that do not track victims.
Although it is difficult for the media to cover what is really going on the ground, other NGOs and human rights activists believe that the number is much higher than the U.N.’s estimation.
Save the Children, an international aid group, said in November 2017 that over 130 children die every day in Yemen because of hunger and disease that are the direct outcome of the war especially the blockade. The international aid group also says that about 50,000 children are believed to have died in 2017.
Millions in urgent need for aid
The U.N. described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Civilian suffering is aggravating as fighting intensifies in Hodeidah. In a report released last June, Save the Children highlighted:
- An estimated 100,000 people have already been displaced from the Hodeidah in recent months.
- 4 million people are at the risk of starvation (24 percent increase since 2017)
- Only half of the health facilities in 16 governorates are operating.
- 9 million children and pregnant and lactating women suffer malnutrition.
- 16 million people are in need of clean water and sanitation.
- Millions of children are in need of protection from recruitment and detention.
In a recent update, the humanitarian NGO warned of “an outbreak of cholera,” that according to the organization “could endanger the lives of thousands.” This dire situation of the Yemeni people is a direct result of the war.
After the interception of the Houthis’ ballistic missile near Riyadh, the Saudi-led coalition declared a sweeping retaliation campaign with intense airstrikes. But the greater part of al-Saud’s anger swept over unarmed, poor Yemeni people, resulting in significant civilian casualties.
This year, on April 22, the Saudi-led coalition launched two air attacks in northeastern Yemen. The target this time was a wedding party, where 20 people, including the bride, were killed. Most of the dead women and children were gathered in a tent in Hajjah’s Bani Qays. The video footage of the incident shocked the world, and showed a child, who survived the attack, lying on the ground, clinging to his lifeless father.
A year earlier, on December 26, 2017, two coalition air raids had claimed the lives of 68 civilians in one day in Sanaa. The first raid targeted a crowded market killing 54 people — all civilians, including 8 children. The second killed an entire family of 14 members in the Red Sea province of Hodeidah.
Shocked by the massive casualties in human lives, U.N. resident coordinator Jamie McGoldrick, could not hide his disgust when commenting on these incidents. “These incidents prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led coalition, continue to show in this absurd war that has only resulted in the destruction of the country and the incommensurate suffering of its people,” McGoldrick said. “Civilians are being punished as part of a futile military campaign by both sides,” he added.
No doubt that all the warring parties are responsible for the humanitarian casualties and dire situation in the country. Yet, the lion’s share of the blame lies with Saudi Arabia and UAE since the greatest number of civilian deaths has occurred as a result of coalition airstrikes.
In an interview with reporters, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir boasted that Saudi Arabia was “the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in the world, by far, to Yemen.” Al-Jubeir was referring to the $848 million the Kingdom had donated in humanitarian aid since 2015. But providing financial aid for a situation Saudi and its allies have created in Yemen is ironic to say the least.
Saudi Arabia and its allies show no signs of letting up their destructive policies. Saudi Arabia’s military expenditure has increased since the war was declared against the Houthi rebels in 2015, ranking third in military spending after U.S. and China, replacing Russia. It spent $69.4 billion for weapons in 2017, which is about three times Yemen’s GDP in 2016 ($27.23 billion). No doubt that a part of that military arsenal has already been used in Yemen.