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Yemen Humanitarian Crisis: Piercing the veil behind battleground Middle-East

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By Gaurav Sharma

What was once the Happy Arabia (Arabia Felix) has now transformed into a ghastly war-zone. Caught in the crossfire of power grab, the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen has been ravaged by a series of humanitarian crisis since the past decade.

Photo Credit: travel.nationalgeographic.com
Photo Credit: travel.nationalgeographic.com

Soaring unemployment, declining oil prices and water resources, apart from being the favorite hunting ground for al-Qaeda’s most vicious branch (AQAP) have metamorphosed Yemen into the poorest nation in the Middle East.

At the same time, a raging battle from multitudinal sides has wreaked havoc in Yemen, tearing it further apart into ever smaller factions.

According to UN reports, more than 1500 people have been killed in the burgeoning humanitarian crisis and almost 1 million persons have been displaced during the pitched conflict.

What is the war all about?

The conflagration of violence is a fight between the supporters of the current leadership of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and loyalists of the Zaidi Shia rebels, popularly known as the Houthis.

President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Photo Credit: ewn.co.za
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Photo Credit: ewn.co.za

Loyalties have been sharply divided between the two forces. While the Sunni south region (particularly the tribesmen and militias) pledges allegiance to President Hadi, other units including ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a popular but polarizing figure in Yemen, vouch for the Houthis.

The battle is not just two-sided. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a deadly faction of the global terror group, assumes command in the south and the south-eastern regions of Yemen. It has launched several attacks including on several mosques apart from planning and undertaking the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France.

To make the grim situation more complex, Islamic State, the most barbarous of all al-Qaeda offshoots, has launched its own string of attacks against Shia Houthis. The terror outfit has warned that these attacks “are only a part of the impending flood”, highlighting the ethereal state of affairs in the country.

What about the rest of the Middle East?

The current restiveness in Yemen has implications for the rest of the middle east. Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab nation in Western Asia, has already launched widespread air strikes against the Houthis in view of the precarious situation.

Mideast-Yemen_Beau-1024x683In this regard, the conflict assumes a sectarian character. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim nation whereas the Houthis are predominately Shias. After the Houthis swept the capital city of Sanaa in 2014, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, and African nations including Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt became wary of the potential rise of Shia Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Moreover, in light of the boost received by Iran through the nuclear deal, the Gulf states suspect the hand of Iran behind the sudden rise of Houthis. (Iran is a Shia dominated country)

Growing more and more circumspect with the rise in Iranian ‘proxies’, the Saudi palace organized a 10-nation coalition to check the rise of Houthis and restore power in the hands of its ally, former President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The reason for declaring war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen follows from the contention that Iran is looking to expand its footprint in the Middle East. According to the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), up to 5,000 Iranian and Iraqi trainers were present in Yemen, before Saudi Arabia launched its offensive.

Are there other reasons for the conflict?

The sectarian hues and ideological differences notwithstanding, strategic considerations assume paramount importance in the battle for Yemen. The Bab al-Mandab strait, a channel between Yemen in the Arabian peninsula and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, provides a crucial link between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (a passage through which bulk of the world’s oil shipments pass).

Naturally, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, (along with the rest of the world) suspects a Houthi hijacking of the region, which would severely undermine free passage of goods and services to the other part of the world.

Another unlikely factor which led to the eruption of the political upheaval in Yemen is the dire ecological condition of the region. The groundwater situation has never been handled appropriately by the successive governments.

From 30 meters below surface in 1970’s to more than 1000 meters below surface in 2012, the groundwater condition has only deteriorated. There are reports doing the rounds that Yemen might claim the distinction for being the first country to run out of water. Lack of sufficient water means deficiency of food crops, thereby aggravating the situation further.

In the midst of the arid ecological future awaiting them, the Yemeni people had no option but to flee the country or to fight amongst each other small battles which sometimes, if not more often than not, assume epic proportions.

How did Yemen end up where it is today?

Apart from being a possible location for the Biblical kingdom of Sheba, Yemen acted as a conduit (spice route) to the Middle East for African, Asian nations.

Yemen Conflict. Photo Credit: http://www.newsweek.com
Yemen Conflict. Photo Credit: http://www.newsweek.com

The modern state of Yemen propped-up in 1990, after the unification of the communist south Yemen and the traditional northern region. In 1994, a civil war ensued between the south and the north quelling the southern separatists.

However, in 2009, Shia Houthis and the government troops clashed resulting in the massacre of scores of innocent civilians along with the displacement of thousands. Two years later, at the peak of the Arab Spring, protestors revolted against the more than 30-year-old rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, resulting in his overthrowing.

During the transformation phase, Yemen became the hotspot for Islamic militants even as the western powers launched a clampdown on al-Qaeda activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Houthi rebels used the fragile governance landscape to their advantage and reemerged as the harbingers of revolt.

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

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Travel Ban
A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.VOA

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive Travel Ban order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel ban order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”(VOA)

 

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Kerala Catholic Priest Tom Uzhunnallil Abducted by ISIS Rescued from Yemen: Sushma Swaraj

The priest's release was achieved through the intervention of the Oman government

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Kerala Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnallil
Kerala Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnallil. Sushma Swaraj Twitter handle

Thiruvananthapuram | New Delhi, Sep 13, 2017: Kerala Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnallil, abducted by terrorists in Aden in March last year, has been rescued from captivity from an undisclosed location in Yemen.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted about the release of the Catholic priest, who was abducted in March last year.

“I am happy to inform that Father Tom Uzhunnalil has been rescued,” she said.

The priest’s release was achieved through the intervention of the Oman government.

According to reports reaching Kerala, after his release the priest was flown from Yemen to Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman.

He has left Oman on a chartered flight — either for New Delhi or for the Vatican, reports said.

The media in Oman confirmed the news of the release of the priest and posted a picture of him — standing in a room with the picture of the Oman king in the background.

He will be flown to Kerala later in the day.

Expressing happiness at the news, the priest’s brother Mathew Uzhunnallil said their prayers have been finally answered.

A spokesperson of the church Fr C. Jimmy told the media that the news has been received with a great sense of happiness.

In March 2016, militants barged into a care home for the elderly set up by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Yemen’s Aden and shot dead many people, including four nuns of the charity organisation, among whom one was from India.

After the shooting, the militants took away the Catholic priest. Since then, other than a few videos released from time to time, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

Uzhunnalil’s ancestral home in Ramapuram in Kottayam district is presently shut as two of his brothers live abroad, while another lives in Gujarat. (IANS)

 

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Signs of Generosity are declining worldwide but Africa continues to grow more generous: World Giving Index

World Giving Index is an annual report published by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)

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In this Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a boy receives rice from a novice Buddhist monk near Mahar Aung Myae monastery in Hlaing Thaya, northwest of Yangon, Myanmar. Monks in the desperately poor neighborhood combine whatever food they received during morning alms into a giant pot and redistribute it to the less fortunate.
In this Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a boy receives rice from a novice Buddhist monk near Mahar Aung Myae monastery in Hlaing Thaya, northwest of Yangon, Myanmar. Monks in the desperately poor neighborhood combine whatever food they received during morning alms into a giant pot and redistribute it to the less fortunate. VOA
  • The score is a combined measure of respondents in 139 countries who were asked whether they had given money to a good cause, volunteered their time and helped a stranger
  • Globally, donating money and helping a stranger fell by nearly 2 percent
  • Myanmar held the top position of the World Giving Index as the most generous country

New York, USA, September 6, 2017: The world’s poorest continent continued to grow more generous according to a yearly index of charitable giving called World Giving Index released on Tuesday, bucking the trend of otherwise declining signs of charity worldwide.

Africa was in a 2016 survey the only continent to report a continent-wide increase of its index generosity score when compared to its five-year average.

The score is a combined measure of respondents in 139 countries who were asked whether they had given money to a good cause, volunteered their time and helped a stranger.

“Despite the many challenges our continent is facing, it is encouraging to see that generosity continues to grow,” said Gill Bates, Southern Africa’s CEO for the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) that commissioned the poll.

Numbers for donating money dip

But globally, donating money and helping a stranger fell by nearly 2 percent, while volunteering dropped about 1 percent, the index showed.

From the United States to Switzerland and Singapore to Denmark, the index showed that the planet’s 10 richest countries by GDP per capita, for which data was available, saw declines in their generosity index score.

Myanmar leads the world

Myanmar, for the fourth consecutive year, held the top position of the World Giving Index as the most generous country.

Nine in ten of those surveyed in the Southeast Asian nation said they had donated money during the previous month.

Indonesia ranked second on the combined measure of generosity, overtaking the United States which held that position in last year’s index.

Big jump for Kenya

A star performer, CAF said, was the East African nation of Kenya, which jumped from twelfth to third place in a single year.

Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, which has been grappling with the effects of civil war ranked bottom of the World Giving Index.

The index is primarily based on data from a global poll of 146,000 respondents by market research firm Gallup. (VOA)