As Americans enjoy the festivities of Christmas, the people in the impoverished Middle Eastern country of Yemen are mired in the world’s largest ongoing humanitarian crisis. They need our help, and our prayers.
Yemen’s tragedy stems from a brutal civil war that has been raging for the past three years. Domestic interests vie for power, while Saudi Arabia and Iran, longtime regional rivals, have staked out support for opposing sides.
Alas, geopolitics can be awfully unkind to the wellbeing of ordinary citizens. Famine, disease, and senseless killing have plagued the country. More recently, a callous blockade has choked off food, fuel, medical supplies, and essential goods for ordinary citizens.
The blockade must end. The war must stop.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has declared the country one of the worst places on earth to be a child. It is not hard to see why. More than 11 million of them are in “acute need” of humanitarian assistance. “That’s almost every single Yemeni boy and girl," UNICEF’s Middle East Director Geert Cappelaere pointed out.
If that is not disastrous enough, a massive cholera outbreak, afflicting more than 1 million people, has plagued the country since April.
Recently, a dire situation has become worse. Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, and other regional countries, enforced a near-complete blockade of Yemen last month.
In early November, Yemen’s Houthi rebels (whom Iran supports) fired a long-range ballistic missile into the Saudi capital of Riyadh. In response, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for supplying the rebels with sophisticated weapons, and effectively sealed off Yemen’s borders.
Since late November, the coalition has eased the blockade and allowed in limited humanitarian aid. Commercial imports, however, continue to be blocked. This has created severe shortages, as Yemen, which imports 90 percent of its goods.
Much-needed humanitarian aid also continues to be restricted. Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, has called for the restrictions to be lifted, noting that “the lives of millions of people … hinge on our ability to continue our operations and to provide health, safe water, food, shelter and nutrition support.”
President Trump has made his views known as well. Although he touts himself as a good friend of the Saudi leadership, last week asked Riyadh to “completely” and “immediately” allow essential supplies to reach the Yemeni people.
His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, followed, calling for Saudi Arabia to effectuate “a complete end to the blockade of Yemen, [and] a reopening of all the ports to not just humanitarian assistance but commercial delivery as well.”
Americans should support the Trump administration’s leadership in addressing the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We must also call on members of Congress, as well as international leaders like those at the U.N., to continue to exert pressure on all sides of the Yemen conflict to agree to a cessation of hostilities and a road map to peace.
Certainly, the situation on the ground is complicated. Early this month, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key player in the civil war, was killed by his former allies, the Houthis, when he attempted to shift his allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition. Increased violence ensued.
The varied interests in the conflict, as well as the deadliness of the violence, add to the intractability of the civil war and the hopelessness of the innocents.
Nevertheless, we must not ignore the crisis or the millions of people who have fallen victim to it. This year, as Americans wish each other a merry Christmas, we should remember that Christmas is not at all merry for the Yemeni people. Let us keep them in our prayers, and call for an end to the civil war as well as an end to the blockade that has intensified their suffering.
Dr. Robert Schuller is ambassador of YemenCrisisWatch.org. He was previously seen on the “Hour of Power” weekly television program broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California.
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