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The spin machine behind Saudi Arabia’s ‘humanitarian aid plan’ for Yemen

Published: March 5, 2018
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Source: Middle East Eye

On 22 January, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen unveiled a new plan to deliver "unprecedented relief to the people of Yemen".

The Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) is a new "aid" programme with the ostensible aim of "addressing immediate aid shortfalls while simultaneously building capacity for long-term improvement of humanitarian aid and commercial goods imports to Yemen".

This will primarily be done through increasing the "capacities of Yemeni ports to receive humanitarian as well as commercial imports" - and all sealed with a whopping $1.5bn in aid contributions. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Starvation politics

The problem here is not only that the funding required to meet the needs created by the Saudi-led coalition is estimated by the UN to be twice that amount. The real problem is that the plan will not, in fact, increase the imports on which Yemen is utterly dependent, but reduce them still further.

This is because the much-vaunted "improvements in port capacity" will apply solely to "coalition-controlled ports", excluding the ports outside their control - Hodeidah and Saleef - which, between them, handle about 80 percent of Yemen’s imports.

For these, absolutely critical, ports, the plan explicitly states that it wants a reduction in the flow of cargo they handle: by around 200 metric tons per month, compared to mid-2017 levels. Yes, you heard correctly: cargo levels in mid-2017 - when 130 children were dying each day from malnutrition and other preventable diseases largely caused by the limits on imports already in place - are now deemed in need of further, major, reductions.

The real problem is that the plan will notin fact, increase the imports on which Yemen is utterly dependent, but reduce them still further

This plan is nothing less than a systematisation of the starvation politics of which the Saudis were accused by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen in relation to their closure of Hodeidah and Saleef in November. 

Back then, noted the panel's final report, all Yemen's ports had been closed following a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport. But while coalition-controlled ports were quickly reopened, Hodeidah and Saleef remained closed for weeks. 

"This had the effect," said the panel, "of using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war." Today, the "Comprehensive Operations" plan envisages making permanent the juxtaposition of wilful starvation of Houthi-controlled territory (in which the vast majority of Yemenis live) and "generous" aid deliveries into coalition-controlled territories.

Spin masters

These are the same "methods of barbarism" as were employed by the British in the Boer war - when Boer-controlled territories were subjected to scorched earth policies of torching farms and destroying livestock - and then revived for Britain's colonial wars in Malaya, Kenya and, indeed, Yemen in the 1950s-60s. Small wonder Britain is so deeply involved today.

But such a strategy will surely be hard to sell in this day and age. Certainly, the Saudis seem to think so, which is presumably why they have employed a plethora of PR agencies to help them do so.

An exceptional investigation by the IRIN news agency reported that "the press release journalists received announcing the [YCHO] plan came neither from the coalition itself nor from Saudi aid officials".

 

It came, along with an invitation to visit Yemen, straight from a British PR agency. The investigation also revealed that the PowerPoint presentation used to introduce the YCHO to high-level UN officials was authored by Nicholas Nahas, of Booz Allen Hamilton, a US management consultancy with long-established links to the US government (including involvement in the illegal SWIFT and PRISM mass surveillance programmes). The consultancy currently has, says IRIN, "35 job listings in Riyadh on its website, including 'military planner'".

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