The Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

What is happening in Yemen?

Yemen. A desert country in the Middle East on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It has been severely impacted by a civil war and is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries. A war that was originally forecasted to last a few weeks, has gone on to last five years.

Yemen - Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Source: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

At the root of the country’s devastation, lies a failed political transition. An Arab Spring uprising lead to Yemen’s long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, resigning his power in 2011 to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr Hadi, upon taking over the presidential role, came into difficulty with issues in the form of jihadist attacks, a separatist movement in the south, the continued loyalty of security personnel to the former president (Saleh), corruption, high levels of unemployment and food security.

The separatist movement in the south, known as the Houthi movement and championing Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, were involved in numerous rebellions in the previous decade which were against Saleh. The new president’s weaker spots were taken advantage of, as the Houthi movement took control of the northern heartland of Saada province and the neighbouring areas.

Many Yemeni civilians, including Sunnis, unaware of what the outcome of the transition would be, supported the Houthi movement, resulting in Sanaa, the capital, being taken over by rebels in late 2014 to early 2015.

Saleh, thought to have supported Houthis who originally fought against him, ensured their loyalty. The result was Houthis and security forces who were loyal to Saleh, attempting to gain control of Yemen and causing Mr Hadi to seek safety abroad in March 2015.

Concerned by the rise of a group associated with the military backing of Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other states, launched an air campaign in an effort to defeat the Houthis, put an end to Iranian influence in Yemen and to restore the former presidents government. Support for the campaign came from the US, the UK and France and resulted in a coalition.

Coalition troops landed in Aden, a southern port city of Yemen, in August 2015, helping to drive the Houthis and their allies from most of the south over the following months. Since establishing a temporary home in Aden, Mr Hadi’s government has had trouble with the provision of basic services and security, resulting in the president remaining in Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis still hold Sanaa and the north-west of Yemen, while also maintaining a siege of the third city of Taiz and launching ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Both Yemen and Saudi Arabia have large oil production industries. Two of Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields were attacked by air in September 2019, causing a disruption to approximately half of the kingdom’s oil production. Although the Houthis claimed to be responsible for the attacks, both Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of being responsible for these.

To make matters worse, territory has been seized in the south and attacks carried out in, specifically in Aden, by militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the local affiliate of the rival Islamic State group.

A more restrictive blockade of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition occurred when a ballistic missile was launched in November 2017 towards Riyadh. This blockade was claimed to prevent the smuggling of weapons by Iran to rebels, an accusation denied by Tehran. However, the restrictions lead to significant increases in the cost of food and fuel, ultimately causing major food insecurity throughout Yemen.

The Houthi and Saleh alliance also collapsed in November 2017, due to the occurrence of violent clashes in relation to the control of Sanaa’s largest mosque. Resultant, was the death of Saleh, caused by an operation launched by Houthi fighters to gain full control of the capital.

In June 2018, in an effort to put an end to the war, the Saudi-lead coalition launched a major offensive to capture the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, from the Houthis – its port being a critical lifeline for approximately two thirds of the population of Yemen. The UN warned against the occurrence of a famine, should the port be destroyed, ultimately resulting in a massive loss of life.

Six months on from fighting, a ceasefire was agreed on in Sweden (the Stockholm Agreement). However, there is a fear that the agreement will collapse, leading the fighting to resume.

In July 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a prominent ally of Saudi Arabia in the war, was the subject of international criticism due to its actions. The resultant action was a withdrawal of UAE forces from Yemen.

In August 2019, conflict occurred in the south of the country amongst Saudi-backed government forces and an allied southern separatist movement (the Southern Transitional Council (STC)), who had the support of the UAE.

Forces loyal to the STC, who had accused Mr Hadi of having links to Islamists, seized control of Aden and would not allow the return of the government cabinet, until November of 2019, when Saudi Arabia created a power-sharing deal.

It was hoped that the agreement would put an end to the war. However, in January 2020, there was an increase in fighting between the Houthis and coalition-led forces.

In April 2020, a peace deal signed with the internationally recognised government was broken, due to self-rule being declared by the STC in Aden. This peace deal would have resulted in the internationally recognised government governing the port city and southern provinces.

A unilateral ceasefire announced by Saudi Arabia occurred in the same month due to the coronavirus pandemic. This ceasefire was rejected by the Houthis, who demanded that air and sea blockades should be lifted in both Sanaa and Hudaydah.

The true cost to Yemeni civilians:

By March 2020, the UN estimated the deaths of at least 7,700 Yemeni civilians, in what is described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Many of these deaths are due to the Saudi-led coalition air strikes.

However, the death toll is estimated to be far higher by monitoring groups. In October of 2019, one such group stated that it had recorded more than 100,000 deaths, including 12,000 civilian lives lost because of direct attacks.

In 2019, more than 23,000 deaths were reported. Malnutrition, disease and poor health have also resulted in the loss of life of thousands more civilians. It has been estimated that 85,000 children who were suffering from acute malnutrition, died between April 2015 and October 2018. About 2 million children are acutely malnourished, including a figure of 360,000 children who are struggling daily to survive.

Approximately 80% of the population need humanitarian assistance and protection, while around 20 million people need assistance with securing food. Half of these people are one step away from famine.

As only half of Yemen’s 3,500 medical facilities are fully functioning, it is estimated that almost 20 million people do not have access to sufficient healthcare. While 18 million people do not have access to adequate levels of clean water or sanitation facilities.

On top of these statistics, the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded has occurred in Yemen, resulting in medics struggling to deal with the number of people needing treatment. The outbreak has resulted more than 2.2 million cases and 3,895 related deaths since October 2016. Yemeni civilians are also at risk of infection due to the coronavirus pandemic, which could potentially cause high levels of fatalities due to the lack of functioning medical facilities and PPE in those that are functioning.

In total, the war has displaced more than 3.65 million people from their homes.

How to help:

The following links will lead you to information on ways in which you can help those suffering in Yemen: (UNHCR) (UNICEF)