Last week, I attended a talk by activist, consultant and former programme Director of Amnesty International Scotland, Kate Nevens. Nevens is an expert on peace and security issues in the Middle East particularly in Egypt and Yemen. In the current political climate, particularly following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi my admiration for Nevens’ work is great. This lecture was about the current conflict in Yemen, a country and situation I knew shamefully little about.
After an introduction to the country, its people and the complicated history and politics of the current conflict Nevens opened up the floor to initial questions. I asked her why it is that as someone who tries to stay relatively well informed that I should know so little about the crisis in Yemen. The answer to the conflicts under-reported nature was fourfold. Firstly, there is a blockade on the country enforced by the Saudi coalition which means it is exceedingly difficult to get journalists in and even harder to get reliable information out. Secondly, there is no reliable data being collected; the conflict has been going on for four years now and shockingly after the first year the death-toll stopped being recorded. Thirdly, there is also media competition with other crises in the central news, most notably Syria. According to Nevens this is more prevalent because Syrians are able to flee their country and are arriving in Europe. This places the story into our western sphere and even into our politics, something that will undoubtedly lead to reporting and debate. It also means that information as well as people are coming out of the country. Finally, and most sinisterly, Nevens explained that there is a vested interest in Yemen not being reported widely in the U.K, as our shameful links with the conflict would then rise to easily to the surface. The U.K currently engages in billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales with Saudi Arabia, with Theresa May recently announcing a new trade deal. Saudi Arabia along with its coalition are currently bombing Yemen trying to get rid of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that toppled the government in 2014 and have held territory since. Most distressingly there have been more civilian targets than military. There have been violations of International law and the Geneva Convention.
Access to information does not just mean that we are not understanding the scale of the atrocities being carried out in Yemen, but also that we do not hear of the amazing work being done by activists. In particular, female and youth activists that are working tirelessly to provide food and water deliveries and to create videos of social cohesion to promote peace.
I profess no great knowledge or understanding of the history of the conflict other than what I was introduced to in this fascinating talk and what I subsequently researched. I also propose no concepts for a solution to this multi-faceted and fragmented conflict, but what I do know is that by turning on our western media blinkers we are turning away from a major humanitarian crisis that we are disgracefully implicated in. According to a U.N report over a third of the country is heading towards a devastating famine. A manmade famine that could be alleviated if the Saudi Coalition stops blocking food and medical imports. Yemen now faces a major economic crisis, extreme infrastructure damage, a crashing currency, one of the world’s largest outbreaks of cholera, inadequate water and sanitation facilities and three million displaced people within the country’s borders that have nowhere to go. We need to talk about Yemen.