Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is going on and on. But 16 months after a Saudi-led coalition started bombing rebels in the poor Arab country, none of the declared objectives of the war seem to have been met. The Shia Houthi rebelsstill control huge swathes of territory, including the capital Sana’a. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, on whose behalf Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen, hasn’t established credible authority even in territories technically ruled by his government. The war and the resultant chaos have helped al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula steadily expand its influence in Yemen. Over the past year and a half, Saudi Arabia has repeatedly come under international criticism for its brute use of force and lack of interest in finding a settlement to the civil war. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted earlier this year that the UN did not blacklist Saudi Arabia as a violator of children’s rights because it had threatened to cut off funding to the organisation. The statistics are chilling. Since the bombing started in March 2015, over 6,400 people have been killed, half of them civilians, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 30,000 people have been left injured, and about 2.5 million remain displaced. An estimated 9.4 million Yemeni children are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, as the country grapples with food, power and water shortages. These numbers suggest that Yemen, a country of 24 million people, is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in its modern history.
Tragically, there has been no meaningful international attempt to solve this crisis. There is a peace process on, but the prospects of a settlement appear grim as the Saudi coalition continues its attacks. Saudi Arabia may have its strategic goals behind the war, such as defeating Houthi rebels who Riyadh perceives to be proxies of Iran. What is intriguing is the silence of the Western powers that are vocal about rights violations elsewhere. The U.S. and the U.K., allies of Saudi Arabia, could have exerted pressure to end the bombing, and push for a diplomatic solution. Nothing of that sort has been evident. In fact, both have shored up arms sales to Saudi Arabia in recent years. This “special relationship” explains Saudi Arabia’s impunity. But how long can the world look away from Yemen? The botched Saudi intervention has proved that it is in no position either to win the war or push for peace. Letting the status quo continue will be disastrous. But the question is whether the big powers are ready to set aside their narrow geopolitical interests and make humane choices.