Over 13 million Yemeni civilians are facing the worst famine humanity has witnessed in the last hundred years, due to a conflict that dates back to the Arab Spring of 2011. A people’s uprising was held across Yemen against the country’s long time ruling President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to end his 33-year long rule, for his lack of leadership and authoritative grip on power. The uprising was successful and handed the presidential power over to Saleh’s deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in a transition that felt necessary to inject stability into one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Unfortunately, thanks to many military officers’ continuing loyalty to Saleh, President Hadi brought the state to its knees, throwing Yemen into a maddening tussle amidst continual militant attacks, excessive corruption and lack of food security
Though the context of the current crisis began a decade ago, it took the shape of a vile regime in 2014, when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement seized control of the northern Saada province and its neighbouring areas. The Houthis belong to a small branch of Shia Muslims known as Zaydis and were formerly known as Ansar Allah. The rebel group progressed into taking over Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen. This led to a forceful exile of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi abroad, while the rebel group took over Yemen leading the country into religious and political turmoil.
A largely Sunni Muslim-dominated state being taken hostage by a Houthi Shia Muslim rebel group meant conflict was bound to occur. Moreover, Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s geographical landscape benefits the two nations majorly as they lie on one side of the coastline to the Suez Canal that is the quickest shipping route from Asia to Europe, making it a key geographical location for the purposes of the world’s shipping trade. This clearly meant that Yemen was bound to become a hotbed of proxy wars between regional and world powers. And this is exactly what happened.
There was a dramatic escalation in the conflict in March 2015 when, backed by the US, UK, and France, Saudi Arabia and eight other Sunni Arab dominated states ordered airstrikes against the Houthis, declaring their aim to restore Hadi’s government. This politically driven Saudi-led military coalition was paranoid of the Houthis’ subsequent success in deterring the strike by getting the support of Saudi’s everlasting regional rival and Shia-majority state, Iran. Being a geographical neighbour, Iran already had a foothold in Yemen but denied the claims made by Saudi Arabia alleging Iran’s backing of the Houthis with logistical support and weaponry. Since then, clashes from both sides have resulted in warfare that has been elongated for years. Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed by Houthi fighters in December 2017, and subsequent anti-Houthi sentiments even led to secessionist movements being stirred in southern Yemen seeking independence for the factions who oppose the rebel group.
In June 2018, Saudi-backed government forces attacked a key rebel port named Al-Hudaydah, which was incidentally an entry point for a vast majority of aid reaching Yemen. This aid was a lifeline for two-thirds of the entire population. Their mandate for the continuous interjections was always directed at pushing ‘Iranian influence’ out of Yemen and reinstating Hadi’s government for obvious religious differences. The claims were to stop after a few weeks, but the brokered civil war backed by major state players is still going on after all these testing years. The offensive only made Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe much worse. In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields in the regions of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air, disrupting nearly half the regime’s oil production (representing about 5% of the global output). The Houthis claimed full responsibility for the attack but Saudi and the US were adamant that Iran had a role in carrying out the attacks. Hadi’s government even accused Hezbollah (Iran’s Lebanese ally) of aiding Houthis with arms. The Saudi Arabian perception that it is an Iranian proxy war and not an indigenous movement for democracy has effectively driven its continual intervention in Yemen, verily making it a Saudi proxy war if nothing else.
The UK is playing a dicey role in the Yemen crisis. They are acting as pen holders on the Yemen file at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and simultaneously providing military advice to the Saudi-led coalition in Riyadh. British diplomats and Saudi sceptics have praised the UK’s role in limiting an all-out assault on Yemen, but it might as well be a diplomatic ruse to protect their position in the UNSC. Moreover, however far the UK went to defend its arms’ sales to Saudi Arabia, it was all for naught, as the UK’s actions were deemed unlawful by the English Court of Appeal. The Court’s judgment was critical of the ministers’ ignorance of whether the airstrikes that killed Yemeni civilians broke humanitarian law.
If the years of draining war and turmoil weren’t enough, two horrendous health crises have crippled the Yemeni people and impacted their economy negatively - the infamous cholera breakout and the coronavirus disease pandemic. The healthcare system of the country has collapsed, and Yemen is at its lowest. About 24 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, aid, and protection including food, drinking water and healthcare. Around 20 million people need basic healthcare, and 18 million people are in need of water and sanitation facilities. An estimated 85,000 children have perished of acute malnutrition between 2015-2018, and 2 million children who are under the age of five are at risk. The coronavirus disease pandemic has led to an additional 5 million children losing their education. 3 million people have been displaced by the conflict. Since the beginning of the civil war, Yemen’s economy has contracted by 50% due to the economic inflation and devaluation of the Rial. People are being rendered hungry due to poverty and unemployment, amidst the already tough war.
All the external forces in Yemen are only hell-bent on attacking each other, involving, unfortunately, the Yemeni civilians as victims of their national vendettas. It goes without saying that many interested sides have always had the reinforcements to financially benefit from the status quo of this region. But the harsh conditions that have led Yemen to see humanity’s worst situation have dictated its state today. It’s difficult to imagine what so many millions are going through in the country, and the least we can do is learn, spread awareness, and lend a helping hand. Every small act counts in building it back up. Here is a list of authentic organisations dedicated to solving the humanitarian crisis that Yemen is being subjected to, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Donating is the way we can effectively help!
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