Saudi tar­get­ing Ye­men’s farms and agri­cul­ture

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY ROBERT FISK

THE Ye­men war uniquely com­bines tragedy, hypocrisy and farce. First come the ca­su­al­ties: around 10,000, al­most 4,000 of them civil­ians.

Then come those anony­mous Bri­tish and Amer­i­can ad­vis­ers who seem quite con­tent to go on “help­ing” the Saudi on­slaughts on fu­ner­als, mar­kets and other ob­vi­ously (to the Brits, I sup­pose) mil­i­tary tar­gets.

Then come the Saudi costs: more than US$250 mil­lion a month, ac­cord­ing to Stan­dard Char­tered Bank – and this for a coun­try that can­not pay its debts to con­struc­tion com­pa­nies.

But now comes the dark com­edy bit: the Saudis have in­cluded in their bomb­ing tar­gets cows, farms and sorghum – which can be used for bread or an­i­mal fod­der – as well as nu­mer­ous agri­cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties.

In fact, there is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence emerg­ing that the Saudis and their “coali­tion” al­lies – and, I sup­pose, those hor­rid Bri­tish “ad­vis­ers” – are de­lib­er­ately tar­get­ing Ye­men’s tiny agri­cul­tural sec­tor in a cam­paign which, if suc­cess­ful, would lead a post-war Ye­meni na­tion not just into star­va­tion but to­tal reliance on food im­ports for sur­vival.

Much of this would no doubt come from the Gulf states, which are cur­rently bomb­ing the poor coun­try to bits.

The fact that Ye­men has long been part of Saudi Ara­bia’s proxy war against Shi­ites and es­pe­cially Iran – which has been ac­cused, with­out ev­i­dence, of fur­nish­ing weapons to the Shia Houthi in Ye­men – is now meekly ac­cepted as part of the Mid­dle East’s cur­rent sec­tar­ian “nar­ra­tive” (like the “good” rebels in eastern Aleppo and the “very bad” rebels in Mo­sul).

So, alas, have the out­ra­geous bomb­ings of civil­ians. But agri­cul­tural tar­gets are some­thing al­to­gether dif­fer­ent.

Aca­demics have been amass­ing data from Ye­men, which strongly sug­gests that the Saudis’ Ye­men cam­paign con­tains a pro­gramme for the de­struc­tion of ru­ral liveli­hood.

Martha Mundy, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics, who is cur­rently work­ing in Lebanon with her col­league Cyn­thia Ghar­ios, has been re­search­ing through Ye­meni agri­cul­ture min­istry sta­tis­tics and says that the data “is be­gin­ning to show that in some re­gions, the Saudis are de­lib­er­ately strik­ing at agri­cul­tural in­fra­struc­ture in or­der to de­stroy the civil so­ci­ety”.

Mundy points out that a con­ser­va­tive re­port from the min­istry of agri­cul­ture and ir­ri­ga­tion in the Ye­meni cap­i­tal Sana’a, gath­ered from its of­fi­cers across the coun­try, de­tails 357 bomb­ing tar­gets in the coun­try’s 20 prov­inces, in­clud­ing farms, an­i­mals, wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture, food stores, agri­cul­tural banks, mar­kets and food trucks.

Th­ese in­clude the de­struc­tion of farms in Yas­nim, the Baqim district of Saadah prov­ince and in Mar­ran. Mundy has com­pared th­ese at­tacks with fig­ures in the Ye­men Data Project, which was pub­lished some weeks ago. Her verdict is a most un­happy one.

“Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, 2.8% of Ye­men’s land is cul­ti­vated,” Mundy says.

“To hit that small amount of agri­cul­tural land, you have to tar­get it.”

Saudi Ara­bia has al­ready been ac­cused of war crimes, but strik­ing at the agri­cul­ture fields and food prod­ucts of Ye­men in so crude a way adds merely an­other grim bro­ken prom­ise by the Saudis.

The king­dom signed up to the ad­di­tional pro­to­col of the Au­gust 1949 Geneva Con­ven­tions, which specif­i­cally states that “it is pro­hib­ited to at­tack, de­stroy, re­move or ren­der use­less ob­jects in­dis­pens­able to the sur­vival of the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, such as food­stuffs, agri­cul­tural ar­eas for the pro­duc­tion of food­stuffs, crops, live­stock … for the spe­cific pur­pose of deny­ing them for their sus­te­nance value to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion … what­ever the mo­tive …”

In a lec­ture in Beirut, Mundy out­lined the griev­ous con­se­quences of ear­lier eco­nomic poli­cies in Ye­men – cheap Amer­i­can wheat from the 1970s and the in­flux of food from other coun­tries, which dis­cour­aged farm­ers from main­tain­ing ru­ral life (ter­rac­ing of farms, for ex­am­ple, or wa­ter hus­bandry) – and the ef­fect of Saudi Ara­bia’s war on the land.

“The armies and, above all, air forces of the ‘oil-dol­lar’,” she said, have “…come to de­stroy phys­i­cally those prod­ucts of Ye­meni labour work­ing with land and an­i­mals that sur­vived the ear­lier eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion.”

There are pho­to­graphs aplenty of de­stroyed farms, fac­to­ries and dead an­i­mals ly­ing in fields strewn with mu­ni­tions – ef­fec­tively pre­vent­ing farm­ers re­turn­ing to work for many months or years. Poul­try and bee­hive farms have been de­stroyed.

Even to­day, more than half the pop­u­la­tion of Ye­men re­lies in part – or wholly – on agri­cul­ture and ru­ral hus­bandry. Mundy’s re­search through the files of other min­istries sug­gests that tech­ni­cal sup­port ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings for agri­cul­ture were also at­tacked.

The ma­jor Ti­hama De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity on the Red Sea coastal plain, which was es­tab­lished in the 1970s – and houses, as Mundy says, “the writ­ten mem­ory of years of ‘de­vel­op­ment’ in­ter­ven­tions” – is re­spon­si­ble for a series of ir­ri­ga­tion struc­tures. It has been heav­ily bombed twice.

But I guess that one war – or two – in the Mid­dle East is as much as the world can take right now. Or as much as the me­dia are pre­pared to ad­ver­tise. Aleppo and Mo­sul are quite enough. Ye­men is too much. And Libya. And “Pales­tine”… – The In­de­pen­dent

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.