Saudi atrocity the world’s ignored
THERE is something deeply disturbing about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even for those with just a passing interest in global affairs, the gruesome dismemberment, the strange circumstances and the laughable excuses which surrounded the mysterious death made the world take a close look at Saudi Arabia.
Like plot twists in a Quentin Tarantino movie, each day brought bizarre new details which triggered global scrutiny and outrage at the influential kingdom.
However, while the Hollywood-like story wrapped us all up with anticipation, something much more disturbing was and still is unfolding south of the Saudi border.
It is already well-known that, in Yemen, the Saudis have used air strikes to kill thousands of civilians at weddings, funerals and on school buses, aided by bombs and intelligence from their allies in Australia, America and the United Kingdom.
It's all part of a civil war which has torn across the impoverished and famine-stricken country since 2015 when Houthi fighters seized the presidential compound in the country's capital Sana'a and overthrew the government.
However, according to aid experts and United Nations officials, the Saudis are experimenting with a sickening new form of warfare which could plunge millions into a famine of catastrophic proportions.
They say blockades of food and medicine, crippling import restrictions and withholding the salaries of about a million civil servants are now driving the already struggling country to the brink of mass starvation.
'NOBODY GIVES A DAMN'
While their children are starving to death and the country is plunged even further into anarchy, Yemenis can't understand why we're obsessing over the death of a journalist.
Even doctors are struggling to survive. They are forced to sell their gold, land or cars to feed their families.
One such medic, Dr Mekkia Mahdi at the health clinic in Aslam, an impoverished northwestern town that has been swamped with refugees said she could not understand the Western obsession with the Saudi killing of Khashoggi in Istanbul.
"We're surprised the Khashoggi case is getting so much attention while millions of Yemeni children are suffering," she told the New York Times. "Nobody gives a damn about them."
He then showed the Times a seven-year-old girl with stick-like arms.
"Look," she said. "No meat. Only bones."
The United Nations is now warning that 14 million Yemenis are at serious risk of famine, as the war shows no sign of waning.
Mark Lowcock, the UN's humanitarian chief, said the danger of famine in Yemen is "much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives".
Eight million Yemenis already depend on emergency food aid to survive, he said, a figure that could soon rise to 14 million, or half Yemen's population.
"There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great, big famine engulfing Yemen," he said.
'AT DEATH'S DOOR'
Yemenis are already struggling to survive and are confronted with a collapsed economy, leaving government clerks and teachers without pay for months.
At the Sabaeen Hospital in the rebel-held capital for emergency treatment, nurses make baby formula by the pitcher, filling syringes to ration a portion for each malnourished child who comes.
Too weak to swallow, some babies are fed through feeding tubes that go through the nose directly into the stomach.
Paediatrician Sharaf Nashwan said some families can't afford transport costs to reach the facility.
"So their children are left for days or weeks suffering malnutrition, until someone helps them out with a little money to get their kids to hospital. But by then we're looking at a really severe case," he told AFP.
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen and more than 56,000 injured since 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.
The UN this month called for a humanitarian ceasefire around facilities involved in food aid distribution, but neither the Iran-backed rebels nor Saudi Arabia and its allies have heeded the call.
The two sides are fighting for control of the country, which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and is home to a string of valuable ports.
The Saudi-led alliance also controls Yemen's airspace and has imposed a blockade, fluctuating in severity, on the country's ports, a measure they say is aimed at curbing the smuggling of Iranian arms to the Huthis.
The rebels now control the capital Sana'a along with much of Yemen's northern highlands and western Hodeida, Yemen's largest port through which nearly three-quarters of imports flow.
A blockade has been imposed on the port and Sana'a airport by the Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemen's airspace.
The International Monetary Fund expects Yemen's economy will contract by 2.6 per cent in 2018, while inflation is forecast to hit 42 per cent.
In the face of such dire circumstances, Mr Nashwan said medical staff do their utmost to save the children in their care.
"The cases that we get here at the hospital tend to be severe. At death's door, sometimes. We do our jobs, do everything we can to push them back to good health," he said.
"Some get well. Others die."
Despite all this, it took the death of one journalist to trigger world leaders to suddenly question buying oil from Saudi Arabia or selling the kingdom arms - and, even then, they have been slow to condemn the country or call for sanctions.
Many observers believe this is because of their financial reliance on Saudi gold.
Analysts say it is unlikely the Khashoggi killing will turn the spotlight on Saudi Arabia's broader policies.
"Saudi Arabia has been called out on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi more than they have been over the past years of the Yemen war," said Farea al-Muslimi, associate fellow at Chatham House told AFP.
"For a government, it's an easy public relations play - even if you yourself have been involved for years in Yemen.
"Jamal's murder is a clear-cut scenario … Western states had no immediate role in this. Yemen, however, is complex. There's no black and white. It requires thinking."
The US is the biggest Saudi arms supplier, and Europe has also been selling billions of dollars' worth of weapons to the kingdom for decades.
In August, CNN reported the laser-guided bomb that was dropped on a school bus in Yemen killing 40 primary school-age boys, 11 adults and injuring 79 others was made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defence contractors.
Many European Union politicians are calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia as well as a ban on "surveillance systems" and other items that could be used for repression. But there has been no EU-wide push for an embargo.
However, US President Trump said he thought that would be a mistake.
"I actually think we'd be punishing ourselves if we did that," he told reporters at the White House on October 14. "There are other things we can do that are very, very powerful, very strong, and we'll do them."
- with wires and Emma Reynolds