Stop the Bombs, Yemen is Starving

In recent days in the port city of Hodeidah in Yemen, hundreds of bombs have been dropped on and fighting has raged around the hospital. Houthis artillery fire in Yemen, and across the border into Saudi villages and towns, has similar effects. This intensification of fighting in the has put the spotlight back on the terrible conflict which has been raging since 2014.

The tragedy here is that the crisis is human made and a product largely of arms brought in from outside of Yemen, both before the war and since it started.

Millions of People Are in Need

The fighting has trapped about 600,000 civilians in the city as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seek to wrest control of the port from Houthi forces, who have some backing from Iran. Hodeidah is strategically important as the vast majority of humanitarian aid for Yemen flows through the port, and the risk is that the fighting will leave the 22.2 million people in need of aid without access to food or medical supplies.

In the past week, the World Food Programme has been unable to access 51,000 metric tons (MT) of wheat grain stored at the Red Sea Mills in the city, enough to feed 3.5 million people for a month. And a vital UNHCR warehouse containing emergency shelter and non-food items has become inaccessible.

Imported Arms Are Fuelling Death in Yemen

This terrible situation is entirely caused by a war in which the parties are dependent on arms supplied from outside the country.

For the coalition side, arms, equipment and munitions have come mostly from western countries. The Saudi Arabian Air Force flies military jets from the US and UK, with bombs and missiles are supplied by those States and also notably by Italy. The UAE is also a coalition partner with a strong presence on the ground in Yemen including in the fighting in Hodeidah. The UAE is equipped with tanks and other armoured vehicles by France, and by a Canadian-owned Dubai based military vehicle manufacturer. France has also sold jets to the UAE and Qatar.

Concerns about violations of International Human Rights Law (IHL), which have been committed by all parties to the conflict, have until recently not had much effect on the supply of bombs, missiles and other military arms and equipment to Saudi Arabia or other coalition countries.

However, following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by the Saudi government, countries such as Germany, Norway and Austria have recently announced a suspension of arms transfers to the Kingdom, and pressed other EU states to do the same. Most recently, the US announcement on October 10, of an end of refuelling for Saudi fighter jets active in Yemen, should hopefully constrain their ability to maintain a high operational tempo.

Research by the UNSC mandated panel of experts showed that Iran smuggled arms into Yemen for use by the Houthis - who have also used arms and equipment from government forces which they seized, or were given by deserting army units in the early stages of the war. Further research by independent analysts have also shown continuing supplies of explosives and military technology, including missiles and drones, from Iran.

Women Are Affected Most

Oxfam is particularly concerned about the gendered impact of arms supplied to all combatants, with the burden of the violence falling particularly heavily on women and girls trapped in war zones.

Explosive weapons like the bombs and missiles used in Yemen put women at greater health risk than men:

  • especially due to the lack of access to healthcare after exposure to explosive weapons use or because of miscarriage;
  • women are more discriminated against than men if disfigured or disabled as a result of such exposure;
  • women are more vulnerable economically and socially than men especially if displaced by explosive weapons use;
  • and women are usually less able to participate than men in rebuilding societies and infrastructure after conflict, meaning their needs are less likely to be met.

Fighting in Yemen has also caused the displacement of over 2 million people. Among other gendered effects of conflict, it is known that displaced women have a higher risk of exposure and exploitation, and in particular are subject to gender-based violence.

Research shows that during conflict and militarisation of societies there is often an increase in sexism and violence towards women and therefore also an increase in the risk of sexual violence, which then usually goes unpunished.

Yemen Is Desperate for Peace

Oxfam has consistently called on all States to stop the supply of arms to all those fighting in Yemen, and where suppliers are party to the Arms Trade Treaty, to live up to their obligations to cease supplies where there is an overriding risk of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The people of Yemen need peace.

They need the arms supplies to stop and supplies of food and medicine to enter the country unimpeded to meet their needs.

They need materials for the reconstruction of civilian infrastructure destroyed in fighting.

So far, countries have earned much more from arms sales than they have given in humanitarian aid.

This needs to end, and end now.

The new and fragile ceasefire offers hope. Will it last?

This entry posted on 19 November 2018, by Martin Butcher, Oxfam's Policy Advisor on Arms and Conflict.

Photo: Jameela Ahmed's three boys sitting in the room they live in, in a village outside Khamer city, Yemen. Jameela's husband died about seven years ago, so she takes care of her children. In Amran governorate, Oxfam has reached over 205,000 people. In these hard-to-reach areas, we set up some cash assistance projects to support people’s battle against starvation, and malnourished children receive treatment from Oxfam’s partners. We have also run projects for hygiene awareness and cholera prevention. Credit: Gabreez/Oxfam

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