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As peace talks falter, crisis in Yemen deepens

Photo: Almigdad Mojalli (VOA)/ Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations has starkly described Yemen as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." What is the Canadian government's role in this crisis and how did climate change and water scarcity exacerbate the tensions that led to the conflict?

While numbers vary depending on the source, the war in Yemen has likely claimed at least 10,000 lives, caused 40,000 casualties, and resulted in 280,000 people seeking refuge outside of Yemen and three million internally displaced persons.

It's a complex conflict, but the two main sides are the Houthi rebel movement (that ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi from the country's capital in September 2014) and an alliance of forces backing Hadi and his internationally recognized government.

While Houthi forces are Shia and pro-government forces are predominantly Sunni, Al Jazeera has reported, "Religious grievances have not been a major factor in the war." Daesh/Islamic State forces have attacked both sides.

Think Progress has commented, "The impacts of climate change are making water even more scarce in Yemen, fanning the flames of violent conflict. While the United Nations warns of climate-driven wars as a danger of the future, in Yemen they are already a deadly reality."

Again the numbers vary, but 13 million people in Yemen lack access to clean drinking water, 8.4 million people are facing famine, and one million people have contracted cholera from drinking water or eating food contaminated by this bacterium.

In early 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition (to restore the Hadi government) that includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. Al Jazeera reports, "The U.S., along with other Western powers such as the U.K. and France, has also supplied the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and intelligence."

Yves Engler noted in this rabble blog that the Canadian government also plays a role in this war.

He highlights, "Some of the Saudi pilots bombing Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since 2011 Saudi pilots have trained with NATO's Flying Training in Canada (NFTC), which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE."

Engler adds, "The Montreal-based flight simulator company trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East, as well as the United Arab Emirates Air Force, which joined the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen."

This is significant in part because the UN says, "Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties."

The UN adds, "In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities."

The war in Yemen made headlines in early August when a 227 kg laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin was dropped by a Saudi coalition warplane on a school bus killing 40 children -- aged six to 11 -- along with 11 adults.

The bombing of this school bus and other civilian targets have been described as war crimes. There are also documented instances of Houthis committing war crimes in this conflict, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilian populations.  

Peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis were to begin yesterday at the UN in Geneva, but they haven't started yet given that the Houthis have said they couldn't get Saudi authorization for their delegation's flight out of Yemen's capital.

Yemen is another painful example of the intersection of wars largely unseen by the world, imperial alliances, weapons sales, war crimes, the present day consequences of climate change and water scarcity, displacement, migration, and lives lost.

Photo: Almigdad Mojalli (VOA)/ Wikimedia Commons

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