A deadly cholera outbreak has become the latest crisis to hit war torn Yemen. Humanitarian agencies are crying foul over the plight of the Yemenis but Saudi Arabia defiantly refuses to lift its blockade.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: The suffering of people in Yemen and the heartrending humanitarian situation there is not a looming crisis anymore. A humanitarian catastrophe is very much ongoing in the Arab world’s most impoverished nation. Not a single week goes by without human rights organizations and relief agencies issuing new warnings, and alarming facts and figures about the depth of misery that Yemenis are going through. The Saudi-led war and its blockades on Yemen have left thousands dead so far and have brought the country to the brink of “total social, economic and institutional collapse”. Yemenis have long been grappling with malnutrition and famine, but are now also suffering from the world’s worst cholera outbreak that’s spreading at levels not seen anywhere else.
This is Saudi Arabia, the richest Kingdome in the Arab world. It's the world's largest oil exporter and has dramatically boosted its military spending in recent years. Since 2015, when King Salman took power in Saudi Arabia, the monarchy has adopted increasingly aggressive policies resulting in a deeply destabilized Middle East. The oil-rich kingdom's southern neighbor is Yemen, the most impoverished Arab nation. Yemen has for decades been a low income, underdeveloped country with poor infrastructure. But the state of infrastructure has never been comparable to the awful mess today. And that's because Saudi Arabia has been pounding Yemen since March 2015. The military campaign launched by Al Saud's young defense minister Mohammed bin Salman who is now the crown prince was aimed at reinstating the kingdom's staunch ally former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and defeat popular forces who had taken control of key areas in Yemen. But the Saudi war plans have all gone wrong. Well over two years since the invasion began, none of the stated goals of the war have been fulfilled. But the Saudis are not letting go. And Yemen’s civilian population is bearing the brunt of the unending onslaught.
SOUNDBITE [English] Rand Paul, U.S. Senator:“How bad is it in Yemen? 17 million people live on the verge of starvation. Some like Ali have already died. What are people saying about it? They say that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen may be worse than Syria. Millions of people have fled Syria, hundreds of thousands have died. And people are now predicting Yemen may be worse. One refugee group said this: that the impending famine in Yemen may reach biblical proportions, think about that.”
Narration: Over the past two years, rights groups have documented numerous cases of Saudi warplanes bombing civilian targets like hospitals and water and sanitation facilities. Saudi warplanes have even dropped US made banned weapons like cluster bombs on residential areas and make shift hospitals. Critics of the Saudi war describe as implausible Riyath's claims that such deadly strikes on civilian areas are unintentional.
SOUNDBITE [English] Rand Paul, U.S. Senator:“You think it was a mistake? You think they accidentally bombed a funeral procession? You think their intelligence was so bad they did not know it was a funeral procession? They killed 125 people at a funeral”
Narration: Under Saudi airstrikes and artillery shelling, Yemenis are grappling with different sorts of crises including a devastating famine and acute malnutrition. The UN warns that two thirds of the population is severely food insecure and seven million on the verge of famine. Meanwhile, the Saudi bombing campaign has left Yemen’s health system in tatters and its blockades have prevented medicines and medical workers from getting through. All these have made Yemen vulnerable to diseases.One of the latest disasters to hit this Arabian Peninsula nation is Cholera. The World Health Organization says Yemen is facing the world's worst outbreak of the water-born disease. The deadly outbreak is being blamed on collapsing health, water and sanitation systems nationwide.
SOUNDBITE [English] Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen: “Let's be very clear; this cholera outbreak is not natural. It is not a natural phenomena. It is something that happens when systems break down and the systems have broken down in this country because of the conflict, because of the tactics employed by those involved in the conflict.”
Narration: Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease. It is transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal. The Cholera outbreak in Yemen began in April. So far, hundreds of Yemenis have died of the disease and hundreds of thousands of others have been infected. Growing malnutrition has made the population weaker and more vulnerable to Cholera. The situation is rapidly spiraling out of control. Aid groups have warned about the alarming rate at which cholera is being spread in Yemen.
SOUDNBITE [English] Sherin Varkey, UNICEF's Acting Representative: “I would like to share with you one alarming fact, which our analysis has just shown us, which is every single minute, one new child is reported sick with acute watery diarrhea. At this moment this is the world's largest cholera outbreak.”
Narration: Despite the ongoing misery in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is unwilling to budge on its Yemen policy. It has defiantly refused to lift it crippling blockades. In what activists have described as an outragious move, the Saudi crown prince, who has led the bombing and blockades of Yemen, recently pledged to donate over 66 million dollars to fight the cholera outbreak. Critics have blasted the move as a tactic to ease pressure on the kingdom over the plight of the people in the neighboring country. Since the beginning of the war on Yemen, Saudi Arabia has enjoyed full U.S. support. It has received U-S intelligence, logistical support and weapons but not even a slap on the wrist from Washington for the mounting civilian casualties. Activists and rights groups say the United States is a complicit in the Saudi war crimes.
SOUNDBITE [English] Medea Benjamin, American Author and Code Pink Founder: “The Saudis have been bombing already the poorest country in the region and turning it into an absolute basket case with not only thousands of people being killed by the bombs but then million of people being displaced. They would not be able to do this were it not for the support from the United States. Not only the weapons but all the maintenance of all of these weapons. The US is even refueling the planes in the air for the Saudis, giving them logistical support, pinpointing the targets, giving them diplomatic cover, and the Yemeni people, many of them rightly so, think of this as a US war against them which will have terrible repercussions for us for many years to come.”
Narration: The United Nations has failed to take concrete measures to force Saudi Arabia to halt its aggression against Yemen. That’s probably because most members of the UN Security council like America, Britain and France have close ties and profitable trade relations with the kingdom. The UN aid chief recently reminded the Security Council that the international community is just watching as Yemen descends into total collapse. The inaction on the situation in Yemen has come to be known as one of the most embarrassing cases of international failure to end civilian deaths and suffering.