Commentary by Neil Clark, in RT.com‘s ‘Op-Edge’ feature, April 15, 2017
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned last week that 20 million people are in danger of starvation because of conflicts and drought. [Full UNHCR text below]
If you missed this shocking and very important news, then it’s no surprise, as it didn’t receive too many headlines – certainly not in the West. Those headlines have instead been dominated by expressions of faux-outrage from the pro-war political and media Establishment over footage of children in Syria who appeared to have been the victims of a suspected chemical weapons attack, which the U.S. and its allies were very quick to blame, without firm evidence, on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
How do we know that the Establishment concern we saw about child victims of war was insincere? It’s easy. True humanitarians care about all victims equally. The concern of phony humanitarians is only for those who have been killed, or who appear to have been killed, by an “Official Enemy” of the Western elites – like Assad. This “outrage” has to be expressed strongly, and very publicly, in order to build support for the bombing of the “Official Enemy” country, and further the case for regime-change, which helps the arms industry and the one percent get even richer.
However, if it’s an ally of the West or Western powers themselves responsible for the atrocities, it’s a very different story. Then it’s a case of: “Don’t mention the war!” Let’s change the subject as quickly as we can! Bellicose “liberal interventionists” become as quiet as church mice.
What made the double standards even more glaring this week is the fact that a large proportion of those facing starvation, as identified by the UNHCR, are in Yemen, which has been bombed by staunch Western ally Saudi Arabia for two years now.
“In Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with almost 19 million people in need of humanitarian help, around 17 million people are food insecure,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.
The very same countries who are directly responsible for the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis” in 2017 are – surprise, surprise! – the ones who have sought to take the moral high ground over Syria. The same neocons and “liberal interventionists” who screech “Something must be done about Assad!” on social media from 6 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock at night are quite happy for absolutely nothing to be done to stop the suffering in Yemen.
One man who did try to end the slaughter was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a consistent target of the Endless War lobby. Last October, Labour put forward a motion in the British Parliament calling for the UK to suspend its support to Saudi Arabia. The resolution failed because over 100 Labour MPs either didn’t turn up or abstained. One of them was Corbyn’s deputy, Tom Watson. “How can Labour ‘humanitarians’ support Saudi Arabia?”asked Stop the War’s Lindsey German.
Last week, Watson broke with Corbyn yet again to issue a statement in favor of Trump’s illegal cruise missile strikes on Syria, saying, without any sense of irony, that they were “a response to a clear violation of international law by the Syrian regime.”
When it comes to humanitarian humbug, there’s no difference between right-wing Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Tories. Or, in America, between Democrats and Republicans. Vicar’s daughter Theresa May has spent most of the last few days robotically denouncing “the Assad regime” – which is battling ISIS and Al-Qaeda and protects Syria’s Christian community from religious persecution. Yet, just ten days ago, the British Prime Minister was defending the UK’s ties to Saudi Arabia on a trip to Riyadh.
For all the moral grandstanding by May and Johnson and Trump and Tillerson, the bloodshed and chaos unleashed by the West and its allies in recent decades dwarfs any crimes that could be laid at Assad’s door. In 2015, it was revealed that at least 1.3 million people, the vast majority of them Muslims, had lost their lives in the U.S.’s so-called ‘War on Terror’ in just three countries – Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – between 2001 and the end of 2013.
The body count, as I pointed out in my earlier ‘OpEdge’ [March 21, 2017], does not include deaths among the three million refugees from Iraq subjected to privations, nor those killed in Libya and Yemen. But, in spite of the mind-boggling numbers involved, the victims of U.S.-led military interventions are “un-people” who have been airbrushed out of Western history. Only Muslims killed by “Official Enemies” are mourned – and splashed on the front pages of Establishment friendly newspapers.
When it comes to infanticide, the same grotesque double standards are on display. In a 1996 television interview about the impact of sanctions on Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked if the death of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying. She replied “I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” Just imagine if Putin or Assad had said such a thing!
In an interview with David Edwards of Media Lens, Denis Halliday, the former UN Assistant Secretary General and the coordinator of the UN humanitarian oil for food program, said that the shortage of food and medical supplies in Iraq was the direct responsibility of Washington and London. “For the British government to say that the quantities involved for vaccinating kids are going to produce weapons of mass destruction, is just nonsense. That’s why I’ve deliberately used the word ‘genocide’ because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq,” Halliday said [May 2000 interview].
The genocide which preceded the Iraq War is a taboo subject in the West – like the genocide which came after it. Instead, we’re encouraged to focus solely on the “heinous crimes” of our “Official Enemies.” They – Assad, Gaddafi, Milosevic – are always “butchers.” “Our” leaders can never be called that – even if they kill millions more and illegally attack, or threaten to attack, different countries every few years.
Back to the UNHCR warning. In South Sudan, 100,000 people face starvation and a further one million are on the brink of famine. In northern Nigeria, seven million people “are now struggling with food insecurity and need help.” The situation in perilous in Somalia too. Getting food supplies to these unfortunate people ought to be the number one priority for genuine humanitarians. But what was at the top of the agenda for last week’s G7 meeting? How to get Russia to end its support for Assad!
This is the neocon agenda of the warmongering elites and not of those who really care about humanity. Next time you come across a “humanitarian” saying that toppling Assad and “dealing” with Putin is the most pressing issue, ask them why it’s more important than saving 20 million people close to starvation. They won’t have a satisfactory answer.
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Also by Neil Clark in RT.com’s ‘Op-Edge’:
How Trump went from zero to hero for the pro-war Establishment, commentary by Neil Clark, RT.com, April 9, 2017
… By ordering cruise missile strikes on a sovereign state whose government the neoliberal globalists desperately want toppled, Trump has become the toast of the Endless War lobby. He is now hailed as a “proper President.” Fears that he would be an ‘America First’ isolationist who would damage the profits of the military/industrial complex have evaporated. Trump is doing what Hillary Clinton and John McCain urged him to do. The Donald, an unhinged, sexist Russian spy? Oh, don’t worry about that, we were only joking!
The Iraq War and its catastrophic consequences, commentary by Neil Clark, RT.com, March 21, 2017
UNHCR says death risk from starvation in Horn of Africa, Yemen, Nigeria growing, displacement already rising
Published by UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN Refugee Agency(, April 11, 2017
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning today that the risk of mass deaths from starvation among populations in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Nigeria is growing. This warning is in light of droughts that are also affecting many neighbouring countries and a funding shortfall that has become so severe that an avoidable humanitarian crisis in the region, possibly worse than that of 2011, is fast becoming an inevitability.
Already displacement is rising, forcing us to upgrade our displacement estimates for 2017. In Sudan, for example, where our initial estimate was for 60,000 arrivals from South Sudan this year, we are in the process of revising the expected total upwards to 180,000. Similarly in Uganda we are revising planning from 300,000 displaced to 400,000.
In all, more than 20 million people in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are experiencing famine or are at risk. The regions in which these countries sit, including the Lake Chad basin, Great Lakes, East, Horn of Africa and Yemen together host well over 4 million refugees and asylum seekers. Consecutive harvests have failed, conflict in South Sudan coupled with drought is leading to famine and outflows of refugees, insecurity in Somalia is leading to rising internal displacement, and rates of malnutrition are high, especially among children and lactating mothers. In the Dollo Ado area of southeast Ethiopia for example, acute malnutrition rates among newly arriving Somali refugee children aged between 6 months and five years are now running at 50-79 percent.
Children account for the majority of refugees (62 per cent, for instance, in the case of refugees fleeing South Sudan) and in common with other refugees nearly all are dependent on food assistance via our sister-agency WFP. With no money to buy food, rations however are being cut. In Djibouti rations have been cut by 12 per cent, in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda by between 20 and 50 per cent, and in Uganda by up to 75 per cent. Many refugees are without full access to livelihoods and agriculture or food production and their ability to take matters into their own hands and help themselves is limited.
In this context, the risks to children can be particularly great. Already, many are dropping out of school. In Kenya, 175,000 students in drought areas have stopped attending school. In Ethiopia, almost 600 schools have closed. In all, some five million children could in the coming weeks and months see their educations being disrupted.
Inside Somalia, the internal displacement dynamics are shifting too. Of the half a million people displaced since November, 278,000 were displaced in the first quarter of 2017. More than 72,000 of these have moved to the capital Mogadishu. Some 69,000 others have headed to Baidoa in the country’s southwest. Somalia continues to see a complex situation of both outflows and returns (mainly from Yemen).
In famine hit parts of South Sudan, where UN agencies warned in February that fighting, insecurity, lack of access to aid and collapsing economy had left 100,000 people facing starvation in some parts of the country, a further 1 million people are now on the brink of famine.
In Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with almost 19 million people in need of humanitarian help, around 17 million people are food insecure. Food needs are being cited as the lead factor in displacement at three quarters of all locations where there are internally displaced people.
In northern Nigeria, seven million people are now struggling with food insecurity and need help. The situation is particularly bad in parts of Borno, Adamawa and Yobo states where by June it’s expected that some 5.1 million people will be in Integrated Food Security Phase classification levels of between 3 and 5 (worst).
UNHCR is scaling up efforts with its partners, we remind the international community that the Horn of Africa drought of 2011 cost more than 260,000 lives, more than half of these children aged below five. A repeat must be avoided at all costs. Our operations in South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen are today funded at between 3 and 11 percent. It is now urgent that the shortfalls be addressed.
UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi is attending a high-level extraordinary meeting in Berlin tomorrow, 12 April 2017. The “Berlin Humanitarian Call – jointly against famine” meeting, called for by the German Federal Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, will bring together donor countries and humanitarian partners, as well as local responders, to review and raise more awareness for the dire humanitarian situation in the countries affected
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Geneva, Babar Baloch, [email protected], +41 79 513 95 49
- In Uganda, Rocco Nuri, [email protected], +256 779 663 793
- In South Sudan, Juliette Stevenson, [email protected], +211 992 700 550
- For Somalia, Julien Navier, [email protected], +254 732 40 00 44
- In Yemen, Shabia Mantoo, [email protected], +967 71 222 5121
- For Nigeria, Romain Desclous, [email protected], + 221 786 396 385