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From War to Cholera, Yemen Is Facing World's Largest Humanitarian Crisis

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More than 10,000 people have died amid the ongoing U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has also destroyed the country’s health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a deadly cholera outbreak. The cholera death toll has risen to 1,054. The United Nations warns some 19 million of Yemen’s 28 million people need some form of aid, with many of them at risk of famine. We speak to Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what is happening right now in Yemen, how devastating the situation is.

KRISTINE BECKERLE: It’s hard to describe in words how devastating it is, to be totally frank. So what you’ve got is what the U.N. describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. And that means thousands upon thousands of cases of cholera, famine for millions across the country, and, on top of that, you’ve got parties at war who have been fighting for now more than two-and-a-half years, who seem to have no regard for the ways in which that war is affecting the civilian population. Human Rights Watch has documented over 80 apparently unlawful coalition attacks in Yemen that have hit schools, markets, homes, hospitals. Last Sunday, we heard new reports about them hitting a market, killing around 20 people. And this is—what we’ve seen is these attacks continuing and there being very little response in terms of the international community pushing for either the attacks to stop or accountability for the attacks that have already occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, addressing the U.N. Security Council late last month.

STEPHEN O’BRIEN: Yemen now has the ignominy of being the world’s largest food security crisis, with more than 17 million people who are food-insecure, 6.8 million of whom are one step away from famine. Crisis is not coming. It is not even looming. It is here today, on our watch, and ordinary people are paying the price. ... It is important to bear in mind that malnutrition and cholera are interconnected. Weakened and hungry people are more likely to contract cholera and less able to survive it. According to estimates, 150,000 cases are projected for the next six months, in addition to the broadly 60,000 current suspected cases since last April with 500 associated deaths. The scale of this latest outbreak is, as well as being depressingly predictable, a direct consequence of the conflict. And had the parties to the conflict cared, the outbreak was avoidable.

AMY GOODMAN: This is U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien addressing the U.N. Security Council. I want to ask you, Kristine Beckerle, about Human Rights Watch’s call for an arms embargo on Yemen.

KRISTINE BECKERLE: So, we’ve been calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, in particular, given the sort of strength of the evidence that has mounted against Saudi Arabia, in particular, as the leader of the coalition, in terms of carrying out war crimes and violations of the laws of war in Yemen. Others have echoed that call—Amnesty, many other NGOs. And what’s amazing is, last—just recently, 47 senators in the U.S. tried to block an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. So you’re seeing governments across the globe, basically—because, in the U.K., arms sales also are subject to judicial review. The Netherlands has imposed a presumption of denial on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. So you’re seeing countries really take steps.

But it’s not enough, because, in the end, the U.S. arms sale is going forward. In the end, Donald Trump went to Riyadh and said, "Here’s $110 billion in arms." In the end, the U.S. is still providing significant support to the coalition, that is carrying out these attacks in Yemen, and, as we just heard in terms of the humanitarian crisis, also blocking, impeding and delaying the flow of aid into a country that, again, is facing famine and cholera.

AMY GOODMAN: And the major winners here—since Trump talks about winners and losers—the weapons manufacturers here in the United States?

KRISTINE BECKERLE: Basically, right? So, it’s one of those things where you’re seeing, in a very gross way, the prioritization of profit over civilian lives. And it’s sort of—at what point do you sort of take the step and say it’s not worth it to sell another weapons deal, when it not only means that, first, the message you’re sending to Yemeni civilians is that you don’t care, and, second, that what you’re saying to U.S. officials who are involved in these deals, that "Don’t worry. Just take the risk of potential legal liability and move forward, and things will be fine"? And I think that that’s quite problematic, again, because this isn’t a new war. These allegations aren’t hidden or secret. Nothing is unknown. So the U.S. and other arms manufacturers and arms sellers can’t say they don’t know. So the question is: OK, now you know; when are you actually going to take the action you need to take?

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