How The World Failed Yemen

June 18, 2020

By: Mohamed Ahmed, Badra Abbas

Yemen is currently in the midst of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The country has been in a civil war since 2015, with two major sides: the Houthi rebels and the government. The Houthis are a rebel Shia group, backed by Iran. They are rebelling as a result of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s struggle to deal with extremist attacks, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of security personnel to the former President who was replaced during the 2011 Arab Spring, as well as corruption, unemployment, poverty, and unequal wealth and food distribution. The government of Yemen is backed by Saudi Arabia, which receives support from the United States. Saudi is also leading a coalition of middle eastern nations that are fighting against Houthi forces. There are also other forces on the battlefield, including terrorist militias, and factions seeking to join or separate from the government. In the end, however, Yemen’s current problems are the direct result of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, due to preexisting tensions between the countries. 

Unfortunately for Yemen, none of the parties involved in this complex situation seem to have the needs of the people of Yemen in mind. The Saudi government has enacted blockades depriving the Houthi rebels, and the majority of the people of Yemen of critically needed supplies, such as food, healthcare supplies, etc. The coalition has closed important ports, delayed and stopped fuel tanks, and stopped goods from entering Houthi controlled areas. The limited amount of fuel entering the country is needed to power generators to hospitals and pump water to homes. The Saudi government has also conducted an average of 12 military strikes a day since this conflict began, according to 2019 information from the Yemen Data Project. These strikes have destroyed hospitals, schools, and public places such as markets, costing the lives of many innocents. The Houthis have fired artillery into frontline cities without thought for the hundreds of people living there. The Houthis have also imposed severe movement restrictions that have blocked humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it.The United Nations has accused the Houthis of stealing UN food and aid and has been investigating corruption in its own agencies. They have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia, one of which hit an airport and injured 26 people. They have planted illegal antipersonnel mines that have killed approximately 140 people (since January 2018), and further disrupt ordinary life and impede aid workers. Both the major sides have conducted heinous human rights abuses against arbitrarily imprisoned individuals, such as journalists. These abuses range from neglect to sexual assault and other forms of torture. Both sides have involved children in this conflict, and shown an incredible disregard for human life. 

Yemen’s current state is also a testament to international failure. Western countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia. Canada, and so forth, have continued providing the munitions used in the war. These weapons, and the subsequent war crimes committed by the major sides of this war also implicate the countries selling the weapons that cost the civilians of Yemen their lives. The UN’s back and forth on this matter has produced very few quantifiable results for the starving in Yemen. The UN body has not taken action such as sanctioning Saudi Arabia, or on the countries supplying the weapons. Ironically, The UN and Saudi Arabia planned to raise billions for relief funds for Yemen. An incredibly audacious feat, considering that the simple alternative is withdrawing their troops. 

To top off this series of colossal failures and abject lack of care for human lives, Saudi Arabia is speculated to be planning on leaving Yemen. Experts believe that the Saudi government has realized the futility of taking over Yemen, and is faced with greater problems at home. The crisis in Yemen is a devastating picture of the consequences felt by smaller nations when larger powers grapple to seize power, a ruined promise of democracy, and the destruction of millions of lives. Reminiscent of WW1, a great struggle for power, rapid armament, and manipulative tactics and proxy wars by dominant powers have destroyed a country. The international community must pressure Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other middle eastern nations to help in Yemen’s recovery and rebuilding. The disgusting actions they took disputed the ways of life of millions, cost lives and still may cost lives in Yemen. There have been around 130,629 casualties according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, and in the midst of a global pandemic, millions of more lives are at risk. Approximately 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. This includes the over 3 million internally displaced people, 17 million in need of clean water and sanitation, 20 million who are food insecure, and 3 million malnourished children, pregnant women, and lactating women. There are approximately 20 million people who are in need of basic health care and that number continues to go up as a result of a lack of food, clean water, and basic health care supplies. 

Covid-19 has also had a massive effect on the crisis in Yemen. Cemeteries in the country’s capital, Sana'a, have been overfilling over the past months, indicating that the number of deaths is far greater than the official reports. It is difficult to establish an accurate count of cases and deaths as a result of Coronavirus in Yemen because of their limited capacity for testing. Yemen has one of the lowest testing rates in the world with only 31 tests per one million citizens. On May 14th it was reported that there had been almost 400 Coronavirus related deaths in the city that week. Many hospitals in Sana'a have shut down and many doctors and medical staff have stopped going to work because of the lack of protective equipment. The United Nations is warning that Yemen's death toll this year may exceed the total number of dead during the past five years of war, famine, and unrest.

The crisis in Yemen is astonishing in many ways, how long it went on, and how long the people in Yemen were ignored and allowed to suffer. Donations could save lives through aid, and active participation in writing petitions, posting messages of support, and communicating public opinion is critical in saving millions, this time and next time. Like many great military failures, Yemen accomplished little to nothing, cost more than money could pay, and destroyed families in a vulnerable country, with a free-falling economy. It could have been avoided, like WW1, through stable communication, building and encouraging trust, and the decisions of the Western world, not to provide weapons. It should go without saying, that this waste of human lives should never happen again.