Memos from Asia

Yemen is Facing the Worst Humanitarian Crisis

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Shibam, Yemen. September 14, 2008: Two men and two children with Kalashnikov guns

Yemen, a country on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, has been facing a crisis like no other since 2011. The armed conflict has destroyed the country’s infrastructure and killed thousands.

How it all started

Yemen was ruled by the autocratic president Abdullah Saleh since 1990 who was removed during an Arab Spring uprising of people that started in 2011.

The removal of Saleh and the installation of his vice-president Hadi as president in 2012 was overseen by a group of regional countries called the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) which is under the major influence of Saudi Arabia.

The change wasn’t agreeable to many Yemenis since they saw president Hadi as one of the same old elites that ruled Yemen for 20 years. That sentiment grew stronger because of corruption, extremism, unemployment, food insecurity, a secessionist movement in the south, and Saleh loyalists in security forces.

In 2014, a civil war broke out in the northern parts where the Houthi movement, the Zaidi Shia minority, had been strong. To everyone’s surprise, by early 2015, the Houthis had banded together with old enemy Saleh and taken control of the Yemeni capital Sana’a.

The Houthi movement is backed by Iran, which is a major Shia majority country that doesn’t get along with the Sunni Saudi Arabia.

After peaceful negotiations about power-sharing failed between the Houthis and the Hadi government, president Hadi’s government resigned. Hadi and his colleagues were put under house arrest by Houthis.

In March 2015, president Hadi fled abroad when the Houthis tried to take total control of Yemen including Aden, the temporary capital for Hadi’s government.

Saudi Arabia and eight other Sunni majority allies started an air campaign against the Houthis. The declared aims were defeating the Houthis, stopping Iran’s alleged ground support for the Houthis and influence in Yemen, and giving back power to Hadi, the president they had chosen.

A Never-ending War

Since 2011, Yemen has been destroyed by a civil war that has turned into a proxy war for regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Millions of Yemenis are living without basic facilities like clean water, sanitation, and hospitals in a country with a broken economy.

Saudi-led coalition has carried out thousands of airstrikes in Yemen in the last five years. While the coalition claims the strikes only target Houthi targets, the reality on the ground is anything but that. Hospitals, school buses, mosques, bridges, and other similar civilian targets have been targeted by the coalition killing innocent Yemenis.

The Houthis haven’t been any better at sparing innocent civilians. They have fired artillery on civilian targets and planted landmines risking civilian lives.

The Houthis have taken the responsibility of many missiles fired on Saudi targets including Riyadh international airport and a drone attack on an oil facility, which the US accused Iran of carrying out. (Human Rights Watch)

They even killed their ally Saleh just outside Sana’a because he tried to change sides, and negotiate with the coalition in 2017.

The war in Yemen isn’t simple, and there are many sides, each with its own goals in mind.

In July of 2019, the UAE, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, withdrew its forces from Yemen after international criticism.

Next month, a southern secessionist movement and Saudi-supported government forces clashed. The southern secessionists, called the STC (Southern Transitional Council), are supported by UAE.

Now, there are three sides controlling territories in Yemen, the Houthis supported by Itan, the Saudi-supported Hadi government forces, and UAE-backed STC in the south.

The war has continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Houthis and Saudi-backed Hadi government forces have continued the war. The STC declared self-rule in Aden in April.

Saudi Arabia’s unilateral ceasefire on account of the pandemic was not reciprocated by Houthis demanding the end of Saudi created air and land blockades in parts controlled by them.

The sufferings of Yemenis

Yemen’s situation has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by the UN.

Civilian deaths in Yemen have been a major concern. According to the UN, there have been 7,700 civilian casualties until March 2020. Monitoring groups believe the numbers to be higher.

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project based in the US, 100,000 people have lost lives in Yemen’s armed conflict including 12,000 civilians who died in the direct attacks. About two-thirds of the civilian deaths have occurred because of coalition airstrikes.

The crisis has left Yemen without basic facilities in a broken economy. 4 of 5 Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance. It includes an estimated 2 million acutely malnourished children, many of which are struggling to survive.

Yemenis are also facing a resurgence of disease outbreaks. A cholera outbreak unleashed in 2016 after the water and sanitation systems broke down, reportedly killed four thousand of 2 million infected. (BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-40369804)

With COVID-19 already in Yemen, the things look grim for Yemenis as 20 million lack access to medical facilities, only half of which are functioning fully.

The calls for help

Many NGOs and groups apart from the UN are working in Yemen who need financial aid. In June, the UN fell $1 billion short of raising $2.5 billion required to continue its humanitarian assistance in Yemen. (Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-un-aid/donors-promise-yemen-1-35-billion-falling-short-of-u-n-target-to-save-aid-operations-idUSKBN2390GX)

Many nations have put cuts on aid to Yemen because of the alleged Houthi diversion of aid. It has left Yemenis in a worse situation than before in the middle of a pandemic.

UN Crisis Relief, IRC (International Rescue Committee), Project Hope, ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross) Save the Children, UNHCR, MonaRelief are some of the organizations working in Yemen who are in need of donations to continue working.

People have asked nations like US, UK, and France to stop helping the Saudi-led coalition and not to sell them weapons that facilitate the airstrikes.

Some updates

BBC has been able to visit Houthi controlled capital Sana’a recently and they’re posting about latest updates. You can see those here:

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