Yemen's health system has been wrecked by war, but Britain is still helping the Saudis bomb it – even during the Covid-19 pandemic
Ravaged by years of conflict, Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Its health system has been decimated and many of its people are starving – but the flow of British weapons to Saudi Arabia has not stopped.
Britain’s role in fueling and sustaining Riyadh’s devastating bombing campaign in Yemen has always been despicable, but it becomes especially monstrous as the threat of Covid-19 looms over the war-torn country.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, has warned the nation is in a “race against time” — and while there is currently only one confirmed case of the illness so far, the prospect of Covid-19 spreading there is a terrifying one. “The odds are stacked against us,” Grande said, citing restrictive operating conditions, lack of resources and the fact that “less than 50 percent of health facilities are fully functioning.” With limited testing capabilities (which may explain why there is only one confirmed case so far), Yemen has only been able to test a few thousand people and faces a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment.
None of this has stopped the bombs from falling. In fact, Saudi Arabia is still very much engaged in “indiscriminate bombing of civilians” – and Britain is still actively, but quietly, assisting in that endeavor. A two-week ceasefire declared by the Saudi-led coalition earlier was not accepted by Houthi rebels and fighting has continued, despite calls from the UN for a “global ceasefire” to focus on pandemic readiness.
British arms giant BAE Systems has seized on the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity for self-promotion, branching out into manufacturing face shields and ventilators for the NHS in the UK. At the same time, Declassified UK found that flight data “appears to confirm” that BAE is still flying a cargo plane from its jet factory in England to the King Fahad Air Base in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia on a “weekly” basis, where its staff service a fleet of British Typhoon fighter jets used to indiscriminately bomb Yemen. While a 2019 court ruling forced the UK to pause any new export licenses to Riyadh, BAE said it continues to “support the UK government” in providing “equipment, support and training” to the Saudi military.
As Yemen desperately attempts to prepare for the worst with Covid-19, BAE has also advertised five vacancies for British expats to help support the Saudi air force, including for a “simulator instructor pilot” and an “armament technician supervisor,” the investigative website said.
Asked by Declassified UK how appropriate it was for the RAF to be supporting the Saudi air force during a pandemic, the Ministry of Defence provided no answer. Luckily for them, mainstream coverage of Britain’s role in fueling the Yemen conflict has been almost non-existent in recent weeks, so Britons are not left to ponder the same question. There have been a few exceptions, though.
A report in the Guardian noted that BAE has sold £15 billion worth of weapons to the Saudi military during the last five years. It quoted an expert who said the war had only been possible “because of arms companies and complicit governments willing to support it.” In fact, so great is British technical assistance to the Saudi air force, that if it were ceased “there wouldn’t be a jet in the sky” after seven to 14 days, one former BAE worker told Channel 4 in early April.
It’s an absurd situation that while the British military is promoting itself as playing “a leading role” in constructing temporary hospitals to tackle the coronavirus pandemic domestically, it has spent years playing a leading role in helping the Saudi air force flatten them in Yemen, killing children and health workers in the process. Adding to the irony, the UK this month announced $200 million in Covid-19 aid for developing nations, including Yemen.
“There will also be extra support for Yemen, where only about 50% of health facilities are operational, due to the country's ongoing civil war,” the BBC reported, without a single mention of the fact that Britain itself has been the driving force behind the war. Very Pravda, indeed.
By the end of 2018, already 85,000 children in Yemen were estimated to have died of acute malnutrition, some too weak to even cry by the end of their lives. The BBC reported that too, by the way, again failing to mention Britain’s critical role in fueling and profiting handsomely from the tragedy.
With 10 million people on the brink of famine, Yemen is one of the most food-insecure nations in the world due to the armed conflict and partial blockades on humanitarian aid. With its already-decimated healthcare system, a Covid-19 outbreak now would be nothing short of catastrophic. It would no doubt be reported as such by British media — with just a few inconvenient facts left out.
By: Danielle Ryan