A University of Kansas Law professor and Middle East expert outlines the scope of the problem in Yemen exacerbated by the Saudi blockade imposed earlier this month.
“The war started in March of 2015,” said Raj Bhala, the Brennesein Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas Law School, and a Senior Advisor at Dentons. “Yemen is a nation of about 27.6 million people. The size of Yemen is about one-twentieth or one-nineteenth that of the United States. If you put Yemen and overlaid it on the U.S. map, Yemen would cover all of Kansas, most of Missouri and parts of Iowa and Illinois. It’s a fairly small country. It’s a fairly small country with a population of almost 30 million.”
Out of that group, the majority have trouble finding food with the blockade on.
“Since the war broke out, there have been about 20 million plus people of the 27.6 total, who have come into urgent need of humanitarian aid,” said Bhala. “Of those 20 million, about 11 million are kids. Today, about 17 million of these people, these 20 million, they don’t even know where their next meal comes from. About 7 million of the Yemenis are totally dependent on food aid. Almost half a million, about 400,000 kids suffer from malnutrition already and about 14.8 million people of Yemen don’t have health care.”
When you don’t have access to health care, disease can ravage a population and that is happening in Yemen.
“Yemen is now home to the world’s largest cholera outbreak, about 913,000,” said Bhala. About 3000 people have died, almost 3000. That’s a humanitarian disaster.”
In addition, there are the casualties from the fighting itself.
“The fighting has killed almost 9000 people, about 8600,” Bhala said. “Sixty percent of them are civilians. If you look at this from a humanitarian lens, it’s a disaster. If you look at it from a military lens, it’s been a completely ineffectual operation. If you put the two together in a very cold cost-benefit calculation, the calculation is hideous. The cost, in terms of civilian casualties and humanitarian suffering just cannot be justified, if they ever can be, militarily.”
On November 6, the Saudis announced a blockade of Yemen. This meant no shipments would go in or out of Yemeni ports.
“Eighty percent of all food in Yemen is imported,” Bhala said. “It’s one of the world’s poorest countries.”
The Saudi government has said it will open the ports, but as of Friday morning, no Western media sources had confirmed that any shipments have made it through.
“The whole blockade itself was in response to a ballistic missile attack that came from the Houthi territory, that’s the enemies of the Saudis,” said Bhala. “It flew across the kingdom towards Riyadh airport. It was shot down by a Patriot missile defense system so no one was injured, but it really was a missile that went into the heart of the Kingdom.”
The rhetoric has ramped up even in the last few hours, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman calling Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ‘the new Hitler of the Middle East’ in an interview published Thursday by the New York Times.
The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shi’ite theocracy Iran traditionally back opposite sides in wars and political crises throughout the region and in fact, the conflict in Yemen has become a sort of proxy war between the two nations.
At the root of the conflict, as it always seems to be when Saudis and Iranians are on opposite sides, is the Sunni-Shia theological divide. The divide started after the death of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) in 632. The sides disagree on who the true leader or caliph should have been.
It is hard to believe that a conflict that has lasted more than a millennium will come to an end anytime soon. At this point, it appears that the people of Yemen are caught in the middle. It remains to be seen if a stable government can unite the nation again, or if it will be divided as it was prior to 1990.
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