The current “Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen.” - A view from the South.

The current “Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen.” - A view from the South.
(Talk made at the MEI, Singapore on 24 July, 2017 by Muhammad Bin-Dohry)

Professor Enseng Ho, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen."Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu”  (May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you all).

I first wish to thank the joint hosts of this talk, the Middle East Institute (National University of Singapore) and the Arab Network @ Singapore group for their kind invitation to me.

The topic of this talk I am sure touches every caring heart in this audience and the world, more so those of us who are connected to Yemen. The dire situation of the country is entangled into many human created problems for Yemen. The country is essentially tribally constructed leading to unresolved conflicts. The power hungry elites are not able to comprehend what the country needs and will not relinquish their gains, but tenaciously hold on at any cost. Yemenis have been in poverty for a long time, but this is now a great deal worse and more recently sectarianism raised its ugly head. Many thought that the Arab Spring was going to bring about a change for the better and we saw Yemen’s uprising as indeed the other Arab states, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and obviously Iraq after its invasion. They are now far more unstable and with the recent rather un-expected events in the Gulf we see the GCC dismantling itself and a scenario of uncertainty is unfolding in front of our eyes.

Yemen has suffered from a dictatorial corrupt leadership for 33 years and has been at war on many occasions between the North and the South (in 1972, 1978, 1979 and an invasion of the South in 1994 to impose the ruptured unity). In addition to 6 wars that took place in the North between the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis (A Zaidi Shia sect) based in Saadah in North Yemen. However, the fabric of the society in the North, regardless of their differences, suddenly closed rank to control Yemen militarily and a major war broke out in March 2015 and remains ongoing.

This fraternity earlier on had toppled the recognised government of President Abdu Rabo Mansur Hadi, who fled out of Sanaa and is now in exile in Saudi Arabia with most of his government apparatus. A coalition of Arab and Muslim states led by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E was formed to get the legitimate government back into power in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2216 : which states “Imposing sanctions on individuals who were undermining the stability of Yemen, the Security Council today demanded that all parties in the embattled country, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.”

As the international community attempted political solutions by trying to bring the warring parties to cease hostilities those who were and are fighting for control and power, led the country into deeper turmoil and it is the ordinary people who came to suffer extensively. Lack of food, hunger, high infant mortality, very poor sanitation, lack of basic medical facilities, exceedingly harsh water and electricity rationing, and the lack of basic human necessities of life, all are compounded with an ongoing war of wanton destruction! This is happening in both the North and South of the country, the suffering of Yemen and its people is great and difficult to comprehend.
After the failures of nearly 8-10 months, of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in Sanaa, the many mediations and meetings with the warring parties and the full involvement of the UN and others, the Yemenis could not agree on their destiny and calls for independence by the South to break up from the unity government were loud and clear. It now looks like the unity between the North and South formed in 1990 is coming to an end imminently. All these are factors of disillusion and facts that have befallen Yemen.

On 30 May 2017 at the beginning of the Holy fasting month of Ramadhan, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Yemen, Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed, gave a briefing to the open session of the UN Security Council in which he said that 7 million Yemenis are at risk of famine unless this conflict ends. A quarter of Yemenis cannot afford food on the local market. Half of Yemen’s population lacks access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services, all of which increase the risk of infectious disease. The latest outbreak of cholera is reported to have led to more than 500 deaths and over 60,000 suspected cases in 19 governorates. The rapid spread of the disease has been worsened by the inadequate healthcare system. At best of times, let alone in war, accurate statistics are hard to come by, but the available figures talk about 60,000 or more suspected cases.
Yemenis are not only dying from violence but from the lack of their essential salaries, and the lack of the means for their livelihoods.

Unicef which is on the ground in Yemen working round the clock to protect children says” Since the start of the crisis, we have helped to provide 4 million people with clean water, vaccinated 4.6 million children against polio and treated 23,000 children for
 acute severe cases. The Coordinator of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Mr Jamie McGoldrick stated recently that Malnutrition and cholera are interconnected. Weakened and hungry people are more likely to contract cholera. There are 17 million people who are food insecure, including 462,000 children in the grip of acute malnutrition. Yemen faces the possibility of famine and over 100,000 people are estimated to be at risk of contracting cholera.

From Geneva, on April 25, 2017—MSF stated “With medical teams working across Yemen, we at Doctors without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (witness on a daily basis the reality of the humanitarian crisis facing its people. In the more than two years since the armed conflict escalated, thousands of people have been injured, maimed, and killed. Our teams have treated more than 60,800 trauma patients, including war wounded and other violence-related injuries. Our patients have been shelled while preparing lunch in their kitchens, wounded by airstrikes while walking to their fields, maimed by landmines while herding their livestock, and shot at by snipers in the streets outside their homes.
Millions of people across Yemen are in critical need of aid in order to survive in a country where the economy has largely collapsed, basic services struggle to function, and social safety nets are strained. Many of the patients we treat, and the families of the medical staff with whom we work, have lost their livelihoods and face illness, rising prices, and shortages of essentials, including food, fuel, and electricity. Civil servants, including medical staff, have received no salaries for months. Clean water, decent sanitation, and basic hygiene items are often unavailable. Massive numbers of people have had to leave their homes because of the violence, with many families forced to settle in overcrowded, unsafe locations.”

Nearly 20 International None Governmental Organisations (NGOs) trying to help in Yemen made the following statement:

“The conflict in Yemen has led to a fast-moving and complex emergency. Over 1.25 million individuals have been internally displaced, 4,000 have been killed, upwards of 19,000 injured and over 80% of Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance. In response, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee has categorized Yemen a Level-3 emergency, the most severe classification in the international system. Yet as grave as the situation is today, without proactive and strong measures, conditions will spiral deeper into widespread violent conflict and humanitarian need.”

Additionally there are many more local NGOs operating throughout the country.
We all have a part to do something, small as it may seem, but it will make a difference for many.
As I speak last week I had the Doctors Worldwide (Turkey) visiting Aden after being stranded in Cairo for lack of flights to Yemen. They were again stranded in Aden for a flight out and I was informed they eventually managed to get a UN plane which transported them out of the country. DWW were scheduled to have visited Hadhramaut on this trip to see for themselves the situation and to have assessed the setting up of a Children Nutrition centre in Mukalla with the help of UNICEF. However this has again been stalled due to the current situation in the country.
The Cholera epidemic.

A further update on the situation after I had left the UK in June is that the Cholera epidemic that is sweeping across the country has by mid-July claimed 1790 lives and about 350,000 are suspected to being infected. That means one in every ninety Yemenis is believed to have been infected by cholera. Most of those affected are in Sanaa, the Port city of Hodeidah and Taiz. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have documented what they have witnessed including the over -crowded health facilities. BBC has this week been giving a wider coverage on what Yemen faces with the spiralling cholera epidemic.

The Economic Crisis:
Triggered by the war which started over two years ago, which has made matters worse, inflation has pushed prices of food, medicines and most essentials very high. While most employees have NOT been paid their salaries for months. Public services have almost halted, which have compounded Yemen’s already desperate humanitarian crisis. Electricity, Water supplies have greatly stalled and the sewer system in most of the cities and towns have seized working resulting in more cholera cases.

Ladies and gentlemen,
My personal experience for the past 6 years or so was to reach out to the Hadhrami Diaspora to try and get some kind of “Medical Aid to Hadhramaut our ancestral homeland. The reason being with my so many visits to Mukalla and other parts of Hadhramaut, I saw the need and the suffering of those who could not afford medication. I visited many local NGOs, clinics, hospitals and tried to see what they were offering and how they operated. I was drawn by some who I genuinely felt were dedicated to the community and operated with meagre means. Their support came mainly from the diaspora and locally.

Our small contributions from friends in Singapore, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and the UK made a lot of difference and we were able to buy medicines/medical equipment locally to be distributed to the NGOs, Clinics. The medicine we provided was for free to the poor and needy patients throughout Hadhramaut including places like, Mukalla, Al Soum, Saah, Tarim, Al Qatin, Al Ghail etc. We had a collection point in Jeddah for medicine contributed by Hadhramis living in KSA and sent overland to Mukalla. This was all done by a team of three individuals on behalf of many in the Diaspora.
We were trying to reach out to some of our fellow Yemenis in Al Mahra, Aden and were about to continue more actively in those areas and others had it not been for the Yemeni turmoil.
I tried to reach out to Doctors Worldwide (DWW) in Turkey to assist with medical camps for Hadhramaut and Al Mahra, but again this initiative could not go ahead because of the security situation in the country!

In fairness Hadhramaut has managed over the years to survive on income from the diaspora and more so from family members working in the Gulf and elsewhere who contributed generously to their family relations and friends.
My other involvement in Hadhramaut was to establish the first ever IGCSE English system of education, the first of its kind in Hadhramaut which was hailed as a great success by the people and the Yemeni government. The Hadhramaut International Schools in Mukalla was officially inaugurated on 2nd September 2014. My dear friend in this audience Dr Saadaldeen Bin Talib
(Former Yemeni Minister of Industry & Trade) was part of that success he assisted me in my efforts to face Yemeni bureaucracy.

The other project we established (Professor Abdalla Bujra Al Nahdi & myself) was the Hadhramaut Research Centre (HRC) in association with Al Ahgaaf University (Mukalla). We launched it in December 2013 and had our first academic conference in London with the participation of 12 international academics on 7 March 2015. We have managed to publish the papers into an academic book “Hadhramaut and its Diaspora, Yemeni Politics, Identity and Migration.” Edited by Dr Noel Brehony and published in London by IB Tauris. The book was officially launched in London on 25 April 2017. It is available online from Amazon etc.

In conclusion. Ladies and Gentlemen,
Without wanting to sound pessimistic, we have to understand the intricacies of the Yemeni situation. One cannot talk about Yemen without touching on the political scenario.
Both parties (The alliance of the Houthis with Ali Abdallah Saleh’s forces on the one hand and the current government in exile with the coalition) have been the cause of the escalation of the conflict and bear full responsibility for this situation.

Unfortunately all the successive governments that ruled since 1967 after the independence of the South did little to improve the infrastructure or uplifting the living standards of the people.
Since the unity in 1990 with North Yemen, the country was subjected to corruption and the forceful rule of a few corrupt elites, led by the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his relatives and tribe. Land grabbing and nepotism were applied to the South with impunity.
The current state of affairs do not bode well and it will be a miracle if Yemen could first get out of its quagmire. The intervention of external forces has also compounded the situation further and no one seems to have a solution. The fact remains Yemen is a failed state and about to disintegrate unless a miracle happens or sane minds get together to sort Yemen’s sorrowful state of affairs.
We however have a responsibility and ability to make things change by participating in the efforts to make Yemen a place where those of us in the diaspora can contribute towards a better society for all. “We are the change that we seek.” as former President Obama said.

We can concentrate by helping in healthcare, and education which are the main basic needs of any nation including Yemen. We cannot just go out with a begging bowl as practised by successive governments. We must depend on ourselves, Yemen is wealthy with its people and resources, if applied by honest and sane experienced minds to its people without favouritism, nepotism or corruption.

Finally I would like to thank my hosts and this audience for hearing me out. I will be pleased to take on any questions and interventions on the gist of my talk.

Thank you all.

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