UNICEF says the war in Yemen is killing or wounding five children every single day. But Shireen Al-Adeimi says the figure drastically under-counts the real toll of the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed bombing and blockade
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Five children are killed or injured in Yemen every single day. That’s the new number from UNICEF on the toll from how the Saudi-led war is impacting the Middle East’s poorest country. Three million children have been born into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March 2015. This week, the World Food Program issued yet another dire warning.
BETTINA LÜSCHER: It’s obviously clear that Yemen is in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis. It is really the biggest crisis that we have in the moment anywhere in the world, so hard to deal with this. People who are severely food insecure, approximately 8.4 million. Acutely malnourished children, six months to five years, around 1.8 million. Acutely malnourished pregnant or nursing women, around 1.1 million. So you see just the statistics speak for themselves. This is a nightmare that is happening right now.
AARON MATÉ: Joining me is Shireen Al-Aldeimi, a Harvard Graduate School student originally from Yemen. Shireen, these are figures that will shock many people. Five children killed or wounded per day. At least 400,000 children severely malnourished. As somebody from Yemen with friends and family there, I’m sure they’re of no surprise to you. But my question for you is, are they actually an understatement?
S. AL-ADEIMI: They are, in fact, an understatement. These figures are reporting the number of children who are directly injured or killed because of violence. They’re not reporting, of course, the children who are dying every single day because of malnutrition, because of diseases like cholera and, now, diphtheria largely due to the blockade that the Saudis were imposing and are still imposing on Yemen. Those figures are much worse, unfortunately. In November, Save the Children reported that 130 children are dying each and every single day because of these other causes that are not just because of the violence that is perpetrated by Saudi Arabia.
AARON MATÉ: For people who aren’t familiar with it, can you explain how this blockade works? Yemen was already, before the war, the poorest country in the Middle East. Access to it is very limited by just a small number of ports, which Saudi Arabia has effectively cut off.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Yes. The Port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea is the most important port for Yemenis. This is where we used to import most of our food and, also, we don’t need it just for aid, we also need it for trade, which is completely halted at the moment because of the war. They’ve blockaded land, sea, and air. They’ve been imposing this blockade for about three years now. They’ve intensified the blockade over the last couple months, which is why it was getting media attention. They’ve currently lifted it temporarily. They’re saying for 30 days, they’ve allowed some food to come in through the Port of Hodeidah, but it’s all in their hands still. They’re holding people hostage. They’re holding the destiny of millions of Yemenis in their hands and they’re choosing when to allow food and medicine and aid in and when to refuse it. People are still dying.
AARON MATÉ: What do you think their strategy is? Is there a reasoning in their thinking behind holding people hostage, as they say? Do they think that that’s gonna create leverage for them to impose the political settlement that they want, which is basically getting rid of the Houthis as a political force?
S. AL-ADEIMI: Essentially, the Saudis want to take over. They want to install their own puppet government in Yemen. They’re trying everything at their disposal, including using hunger as a weapon of war, which, of course, we know is illegal. But they keep getting away with it. They’re hoping that Yemenis will just surrender and allow them to control Yemen as they see fit. But, of course, that strategy has not panned out for them. I’ve read reports where the Saudis thought that they could start this war in Yemen, maybe be finished with it within six weeks. Of course, we’re now in our third year and they’re still bombing.
They’re still desperately trying to maintain some kind of control over this country, but they’re failing miserably. People don’t wanna have the Saudis as their overlords. We’ve seen what happened in southern Yemen, where I’m from [inaudible 00:04:47] reason the [inaudible 00:04:47] took over and you have groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS and all sorts of extremist groups, plus the mercenaries that the Saudis have hired. They’re all vying for power and people still don’t see this liberation that they’ve expected from the Saudis. It’s a failed strategy.
AARON MATÉ: You know, speaking of failed strategy, you mention Al-Qaeda. Can you talk about how the U.S.-backed bombing has, in fact, empowered Al-Qaeda and ISIS inside of Yemen?
S. AL-ADEIMI: Right. The Saudis have no problem working with any groups. That includes Al-Qaeda, of course. In 2016, there’s video evidence of the Saudi troops that are paid by the Saudis working alongside Al-Qaeda. At the time, they were trying to drive away the Houthis from certain parts of Taiz. You have groups like that who are empowered, other groups who have gained more control because of the power vacuum that the Saudis have created in the south. It’s counterintuitive to be working with the Saudis given that they are so readily willing to work with groups that are openly Al-Qaeda or have ties to Al-Qaeda.
AARON MATÉ: What do you make right now of the efforts underway in Washington? There have been a growing number of lawmakers who have called for cutting off U.S. military support for the Saudi coalition. Recently, you’ve had Obama administration officials expressing some regret for what they helped start back in March 2015. Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, is among those to come out and say, “We made a mistake in supporting the Saudi-led war.”
S. AL-ADEIMI: You know, it’s a very hypocritical stance to take because these numbers were just as dire when Obama was under control. Maybe we didn’t hear about them as much, but people were dying. People were dying of cholera, of violence, and the Saudis were committing air strike after air strike after air strike. Human rights organizations were calling for a halt to U.S. support right from the beginning. It’s a bit hypocritical for Obama administrators to now finally say, “Oh, okay, now that this is a Trump war on Yemen, now we’re against it.” But nonetheless, we need lawmakers in the Senate and in the House, lawmakers such as Chris Murphy, who have been calling adamantly for U.S. to stop its support of Saudi Arabia military.
Now, of course, that’s the best hope that we as Yemenis have. The U.S. Army recently just posted on their Twitter page the extent of their support to the Saudi military and it’s really astonishing. This includes training, not only refueling airplanes midair, but also repairing those aircrafts and vehicles when they’ve been damaged in the war, updating them, providing the soldiers with basic training all the way to very sophisticated training. The U.S. is very heavily involved in the war on Yemen by helping the Saudis. Without them, the Saudis aren’t going to be able to continue to wage this war much longer.
Of course, we know, then, there are also weapon shipments that are ongoing and have increased under Trump’s administration. The Saudis are very much reliant on U.S. support and that’s what needs to stop if we want to see an end to this war.
AARON MATÉ: Shireen, let me read that tweet that you mentioned from the U.S. Army. “The Saudi Arabian National Guard has enormous capacity, and the #USArmy helps them develop that into powerful capability.” As a Yemeni, what was your reaction when you saw that?
S. AL-ADEIMI: I mean, it wasn’t a secret. We all know that the U.S. Army is helping the Saudis. But just if you click on that link and you go to that article, the extent of that alliance is outlined. In each paragraph, basically they’re saying that the Saudis are incompetent and we’re helping them become more competent. They’re acknowledging that there are Saudi casualties at the Yemen border and they said that the number of casualties is classified, but it’s high. They’re training them on how to save Saudi soldier lives. They are helping them with maintaining aircraft, vehicles, and updating them and what not.
Trump can say, “Oh, lift the blockade,” or the Obama administration can say, “Well, we don’t like this anymore,” but just the extent of support has been going on for so long and it hasn’t waned despite the huge humanitarian crisis that we know is caused by this war. Despite the staggering number of lives that have been lost, the U.S. still proudly supports Saudi Arabia in that endeavor. That is unfortunate.
AARON MATÉ: Shireen, finally, when you speak to people back in Yemen, your family and friends, what do you hear from them?
S. AL-ADEIMI: There’s hope, but also a lot of desperation. People are worried. Life goes on, of course. They’re trying to make the best of the worst situation. They’re trying to help each other out. We often, many Yemenis living in North America, are sending cash to our families not only for them, but also for them to help their poor neighbors and the people that they see on the streets. They know it’s a desperate situation. They know that if this blockade continues and if the currency keeps crashing the way it has been, then there’s no hope for even them to stay alive.
They’re grateful for people in America who are speaking out against their governments, but there’s just a bleak future ahead of them and for many people, they don’t even have the luxury of worrying about a future. The present is already bleak. People are dying every single day because of very preventable diseases and malnutrition and whatnot. It’s really heartbreaking. It’s unfortunately still a conflict that doesn’t receive much attention. I’m grateful for you to continue to shed light on this issue.
AARON MATÉ: Of course, we’ll continue to do so. Shireen Al-Adeimi, Harvard Graduate School student originally from Yemen. Thank you.
S. AL-ADEIMI: Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.