Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, a little more than half the size of Indiana, has more than four times our population. Amidst the other conflicts of our times, the plight of those 28 million Yemenis is not well known here.
At a public meeting on the Manchester University Fort Wayne campus Monday, Imam Hamzah Sharif of the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne pleaded with his audience to learn more about what has become the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and try to help.
“Yemeni-Americans are struggling with the knowledge that their people are struggling every day,” he told the gathering of about 100 people. “No one is paying enough attention. The world is turning a blind eye.”
A harrowing video and remarks by Sharif and other speakers drove home the horrors that have ensued from a four-year civil war. Yemen was already among the world's poorest countries when an internal conflict between Muslim factions grew into a proxy war in which Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim Arab states supported the Sunni-led Yemeni government and Iran aided by rebels fighting for Yemen's Shia Muslim minority.
Backed by the United States, France and Britain, the Saudis conducted an airstrike campaign aimed at cutting the rebel portions of the country off from food and other supplies. Now thousands have died in the war, a cholera epidemic is raging, clean water is scarce and 14 million people are on the verge of starvation. “Sixteen million people do not have access to basic health care needs,” said Ahmed Abdelmageed, assistant dean of student, alumni and community engagement at Manchester's College of Pharmacy.
Abdelmageed, also a board member with the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, moderated the discussion.
The youngest, of course, are the first to suffer, as the videos made clear. Maali Luqman, a Detroit educator who visited Yemen in 2013 and spoke to the group through a video link, said 130 children are dying daily as a consequence of the deprivations. A father was shown after burying his son. “He used to smile,” the man said as he scraped mud away from the stones marking the grave. “He was playful.”
The world is being asked to help alleviate Yemen's suffering through donations.
Hashem Awnallah, a senior strategic adviser for an aid group called Pure Hands, also joined the group by video. He said his group wants to stave off famine, rescue children and provide health and educational aid. “Please help us survive and help us to stop this injustice,” Awnallah said.
Though it does not have a rating for Texas-based Pure Hands, Charity Navigator, which analyzes aid and relief efforts, offers positive ratings for several other organizations that are bringing help to Yemen, including CARE, Oxfam America, Catholic Relief Services; Islamic Relief USA, Baitulmaal AHED, International Rescue Committee and the Zakat Foundation of America.
But speakers told the Manchester audience simply keeping informed and spreading awareness of Yemen's plight can make a difference. “Keep up with what's happening,” Luqman said. “Understand our influence as Americans. ... Reach out to public leaders.”
Many may be willing to listen. U.S. Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana leader who has grasped the urgency of Yemen's situation, argues that U.S. backing of the brutal war may make America less safe in the long run.
“Famine and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians will only push more Yemenis toward Iran and its proxies, giving Iran increased opportunities to threaten Americans, our allies and our interests,” Young said in November. Young deserves some credit as Congress finally has begun to try to rein in U.S. support for Yemen's war. But others must speak out for the Yemenis, as well.
“Education right now is a powerful weapon,” Abdelmageed said.