The War in Ukraine is Another Blow to Yemen
To paraphrase Robert Plant, does anybody remember Yemen?
The war- and climate-ravaged country of 30 million pokes its head into the news now and then, usually when something bad happens. Yemen has been in turmoil for the last 11 years, not unlike Syria and Libya, which all went sideways during the 2011 Arab Spring.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, Houthi rebels launched a civil war that has devastated what was already one of the poorest and most food insecure nations in the world. According to the United Nations, 80 percent of Yemenis are in need.
The civil war is yet another front in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf countries). Iran is backing the Houthis, who have launched strikes against Saudi and the UAE.
It’s complicated, with a lot of ins and outs, as the Dude would say, and I’m not going to play it all out here. However, what’s important to understand now is that Putin’s war in Ukraine is making things in Yemen worse.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Russia and Ukraine are two of the largest exporters of wheat and the conflict is creating a global food crisis. That is directly affecting places like Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Syria that are reliant on imported wheat and humanitarian food aid. Things are likely to get worse in the short term.
In fact, things are so precarious in Yemen that even The Onion tuned into the crisis. The satire site published a spot-on, and typically cynical and dark, post with the headline: Starving Yemeni Civilians Thank Media For Privacy During Difficult Time.
It’s one of the most accurate and cutting commentaries on the disparity of the coverage of Ukraine compared to Yemen, Syria, and other conflict zones. It’s akin to the discussion we had on NPR’s 1A a few weeks ago regarding the racist commentary about the war in Ukraine compared to conflicts in non-white/non-western countries. As I stated on the program, it’s like the West Wing episode Inauguration: Part 1.
President Bartlet: Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?
Will Bailey: I don't know, sir, but it is.
We’re certainly seeing this today that the west cares more about Ukrainian lives than the lives of Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, etc. Hence, The Onion article.
There is one piece of good news coming out of Yemen. According to news reports, Saudi Arabia halted military operations in Yemen in response to a UN-proposed ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. The United Nations hopes it will lead to renewed peace talks. We’ll see if that happens given that UN-sponsored peace talks have been dead ending for years.
In February 2010, I traveled to Yemen as the international community was paying attention to the country, briefly, then. Remember the failed underwear bomber in December 2009? He received training in Yemen, hence the United States and others were frantically trying to address the conditions in Yemen that created an al Qaeda recruiting pool (and now and al Qaeda and ISIS recruiting pool).
I spent three weeks in Yemen exploring the reasons the country was a fragile/failing state and why terrorists had found it an accommodating place. Yemen and Afghanistan have much in common in terms of poverty, food insecurity, lack of education, poor governance, and remote terrain that makes it easy for bad actors to set up shop. Yemen, however, was more advanced and developed, at least the cities, than Afghanistan. It was a basket case, but a fascinating one. It’s still one of my favorite places in the world, although it’s suffered horrors since I was there. Arguably, I saw the country at its peak in this century. It will be a long time before it returns to its 2010 conditions, let alone moves forward.
The following paid subscriber content is an outtake from my book in progress: Passport Stamps, Searching the World for a War to Call Home. It recounts a couple of days in Sana’a and some of the odd sights and encounters I had in Yemen.