Silence on Yemen!

Human Wrongs Watch

While very busy covering French president and British prime minister visits to Libya, and talking about the day when Libyan oil will feed again cars and industries, mainstream media has nearly ignored the continuing killings in Yemen and the growing hunger of which more than 7,5 million Yemenis are victims.

Image: Bernard Gagnon | Wikimedia Commons

Yemenis have been protesting peacefully for the fall of the regime since February, making this the longest-running of the “Arab Spring” protests. Yet Yemen has been largely absent from the international media agenda,”  writes Abubakr Al-Shamahi, a British-Yemeni freelance journalist and the editor of Comment Middle East, a platform for young people to write about the region.

“The Western focus on the Arab world in recent months has been on Libya and Syria, with Yemen an unsexy brother in the background,” he adds. Yemen has only garnered an article here and there when news of Yemeni President Saleh’s “imminent” return is leaked, or when anything al-Qaeda-related emerges.” 

Herein lies one of the major problems that Yemenis face in attempting to draw attention to their uprising. There is a fundamental lack of understanding of Yemen, and this has severely affected the media narrative, explains Al-Shamahi in his opinion-article published by Al Jazeera.

For example, al-Qaeda. To Yemenis, this is a small and largely irrelevant group, seen as having links to the Yemeni government and largely aiding the government’s foreign policy goals,” he says.

Yemen Is Too Complicated

Yemen is too complicated for any nuanced analysis from observers who know little about the country. Too often terms such as “tribalism”, “extremism” and “failed state” are thrown around, when in reality Yemenis share the basic grievances that their fellow Arabs are protesting against.”

Saudi Arabia is also leading the counter-revolutionary charge, as it has been doing in several restive Arab states. The shared narrative of the Arab Spring, that of freedom and dignity, is what drives the Yemeni protesters,” says Al Shahani.

One Third of Yemenis Are Hungry

Meanwhile, families in parts of Yemen are in dire need of assistance as crippling food prices and fuel shortages drive them to breaking point, according to a new report by the international aid agency Oxfam. Already, one-third of Yemenis – 7.5 million people – are going hungry.

New research by Oxfam in the western governorate of al Hodeida finds that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of poor people surveyed said they had resorted to skipping meals, and one-fifth (19 percent) had taken their children out of school to find work to help the family survive.

Many families are relying on a diet of bread and rice alone.

Donors Just Sit and Wait

At a time when donors should be scaling up funding, some, such as the World Bank, are suspending aid based on political and security concerns at the expense of the most vulnerable communities, the report alerts.

The aid agency says a bolder response from donors is needed and is calling on them to meet through the Friends of Yemen – a group of interested governments, including key Western and Gulf states – to coordinate immediate funds for Yemen.

Ashley Clements, author of Oxfam’s new report ‘Yemen: fragile lives in hungry times’, says: “Ordinary families are telling us they simply don’t have the money to buy even the basics. Many say they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”…

The Poorest People, Out In The Cold

Oxfam’s report reveals there is a major shortfall in humanitarian aid funding, as some donors have historically focused on political and security objectives in Yemen, leaving the poorest people out in the cold.

While donors have pledged billions of dollars to help Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya rebuild their economies and meet humanitarian needs, the plight of people living in the poorest country in the region is being forgotten by the international community.

The UN-administered Humanitarian Response Plan has received just 57 percent ($166 million) of its required funding figure of $290 million for 2011. Nearly $58 million came from the US, by far the largest donor addressing food security in Yemen, but much more is still needed.

The World Food Programme is also facing a shortfall of nearly $60 million, around a third of its overall annual budget in the country leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people without the support they need.

In recent months, support has come from Gulf States in the form of significant donations of oil, though they could do more.

Donors Suspend Aid

Some donors have been suspending aid rather than scaling up. For example, last month, the World Bank suspended $542 million of aid including funding for desperately-needed welfare payments to some of the country’s poorest people because of security and governance concerns.

However, some of the welfare institutions that the World Bank funds, are continuing to provide support to the poorest Yemenis.

Undoubtedly there are major challenges to delivering aid in Yemen but that’s true in many other parts of the world. Some of these obstacles can be overcome.

It Could Be Too Late

Clements adds: “For too long promises of support from donor countries have failed to materialise. Donors have been hesitant to increase support for the troubled country and are opting to wait until the political turmoil has settled; but by then it could be too late.

It is time to stem the tide that is sweeping the country towards calamity,” says Clements.

2001 Human Wrongs Watch

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