Despair, Broken Bodies — The Real Cost of Trump’s Saudi Arms Deal
The war in Yemen has killed thousands -- and mulitated many more
The first time Wael saw his reflection in the mirror, his world fell apart.
“I didn’t look at my face for two years,” the 28-year-old from Yemen explains. “When I saw myself, I was destroyed. I completely lost myself.”
Wael is one of the many Yemeni patients receiving treatment for severe burns at the reconstructive surgery hospital for war victims in the Middle East. The hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders — also known by its French acronym MSF — is located in Amman, Jordan.
The young Yemeni was attacked and burned during an anti-government demonstration that occurred during the Arab Spring, which flared across the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. He spent two years completely bedridden, unable to eat or wash unaided.
“We were protesting in Taghyeer Square and we planned to go to the capital, but we were attacked and burned before we had a chance,” Wael says. He lost the use of his hands. His whole upper body was affected. Today his face is unrecognizable.
“After that, I couldn’t move my hand — just barely two fingers on my right hand,” Wael says from the hospital bed that has become home as he awaits more surgeries.
While doctors struggle to help those affected by the conflict in Yemen, U.S. president Donald Trump has agreed to a $110-billion arms deal with Yemen’s neighbor Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab states including the United Arab Emirates, Somalia and Djibouti fighting in Yemen using American weapons.
Wael. MSF photo
Wael is lucky, in a sense. He’s able to travel outside of Yemen to access vital health services. In the hospital’s physiotherapy room, patients struggle to complete weight-bearing exercises.
The poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen is now in its sixth year of a brutal civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians. The country now has more than 24,000 suspected cases of cholera and is on the brink of a famine that could decimate its population of 27 million.
Bob Thompson, clinical director of the MSF project in Amman, says providing treatment for those caught in the war is fraught with difficulties.
“Yemen is the most difficult population to get in and out of our hospital. It’s mainly due to the violence. The airport in Sanaa in the north of the country is closed, so we have to transport people in and out through the south. Getting patients from the south which is under the control of one party, to the north, which is under the control of another, is a significant issue — and it’s difficult to assure our patients’ physical safety.”
Yemen is hopelessly divided. In 2011, anti-government protests spread throughout Yemen, demanding the resignation of Pres. Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh handed the presidency to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in November 2011. Unhappy with Hadi, the country’s minority Zaidi-Shia militia — the Houthis — gained control of the capital Sanaa alongside pro-Saleh troops.
That worried neighboring Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see the Houthis as an extension of their bitter regional rival, Shia-dominated Iran — a claim Iran continues to deny.
A patient at the MSF hospital in Amman. MSF photo
The violence in Yemen is brutal and dynamic. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has gained swaths of territory. Islamic State is also a small player in the region. For civilians living through this bloodshed, Trump’s brazen mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” — his justification for the Saudi arms-deal — is a symbol of heartless expediency in a week that saw the country’s number of cholera cases double from 11,000 to 23,500 in just five days, according to the World Health Organization.
The situation on the ground is bleak. More than two million children are acutely malnourished. Basic food supplies at an all time low. The United Nations has warned that, if aid doesn’t immediately reach the country, famine could affect 17 million people.
The United States has suspended all embassy operations in the country and says it cannot evacuate U.S. citizens, leaving Yemenis with dual citizenship desperately trying to reach refugee camps in neighboring Djibouti.
For nurses such as Abu Sammour, who spend every day treating the victims of heavy weapons and air strikes in Yemen, the human cost of multi-billion-dollar arms deals is evident.
“We see them day and night, when they cry and when they miss their families,” Sammour says. “Some of them can’t look in the mirror. They lose all their self-worth. We try to keep supporting them, to remind them they are human and good humans. We try to tell them that they are stronger than most people because of what they have suffered.”
Wael, who is scheduled for even more surgery to repair his body, is hopeful that with each surgery and grueling physiotherapy routine, he will gain more independence. “I can brush my hair and wash myself. I can even hold a spoon and a cup. People said I had no hope but I kept going.”