There’s been a war in Yemen for almost three years and yet, we know almost nothing about it. Sure, if politics is your forte then the country’s name is heard in passing – every now and then – usually accompanied by discussion around drone strikes and civilian deaths. But to string together a coherent understanding of what exactly is going on in Yemen is tough. Why then have the wars in Syria and Sudan and Iraq been extensively covered by the media while Yemen remains the forgotten war?
According to a UN report released in January, over 10,000 civilians have died and 40,000 injured, yet there has been no updated report since, and those numbers are very likely to have gone up substantially. In the meantime, the country is also experiencing the world’s largest breakout in Cholera, with half a million infected and thousands dead. These are some facts that weave their way into western media, but the humanitarian reporting, the kind of coverage that raises global awareness and puts into motion NGOs, charities, marches and petitions is wholly missing from this war: we’ve been left with nothing but numbers.
Reporting around how difficult it is to gain media access into the country however seems more readily available than actual news from Yemen. Just a few months ago, a UN flight carrying three BBC journalists was refused landing into Sana’a airport. Since the capital’s airport closed for civilian flights in August 2016, access into the country is the most significant obstacle for journalists. Secondly, bureaucracy put in place raised the costs of media visas up to $1,100 per person (this was later dropped to $250), and an approval stamp that cannot be carried as a loose paper, but needs to be directly inside the journalist’s passport – elongating the process even further.
In August, the New Statesman published an extensive article that picks at the difficulties media outlets are faced with should they want to cover the war in Yemen. “There were other issues, too: equipment that all journalists take with them to war zones as standard – flak jackets, helmets and satellite phones – were not allowed on the UN flights, increasing fears about operating in the country.” While the article does clarify the very real fears faced by both media companies and their journalists, throughout the highly detailed piece, an undercurrent of guilt – justification even – as to why the media has let down the suffering citizens of Yemen flowed in the cracks of the paragraphs, between words and commas.
Another reasoning for the Forgotten War could be attributed to its localised players, unlike Iraq and Syria, where there’s an array of western countries involved, from Russia, the US and the United Kingdom, to Hizballah and Iran. At the same time, waves of Yemeni refugees aren’t flowing into Europe, making the crises not only seem ‘elsewhere’, but also feel as such. “There isn't a direct or immediate threat coming to western countries from Yemen", said Baraa Shiban, a London-based Yemeni human rights activist. Amidst all the reasoning, the facts remain. Atrocities are still being committed against innocent people on a daily basis and a humanitarian crisis is worsening as millions of people lack basic food and water supplies. Maybe rereading that New Statesman article will rebalance the flooding guilt.