The UN says that Yemen is on the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years if the war is to continue. The civil unrest has been going on for a long time with Yemen partaking in the Arab Spring uprisings. However, it escalated into a war in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened. This has had devastating effects on the Yemen population. To this day, the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of Yemen’s population need humanitarian assistance and protection. Whilst 14.3 million are said to require an acute need of assistance, a further 10 million are considered to be one step away from famine. An estimated 2 million of that figure are said to be children, with 360,000 children under the age of 5 struggling to survive. To make matters worse, an estimated 18 million people do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation. With 20 million people lacking access to adequate healthcare, this has led to a rise in deaths from disease, with 2.2 million suspected cholera cases. However, the effects have not only been in Yemen. An estimated 3.65 million people have been displaced from their homes, with refugees seeking refuge in Oman, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and more. But, how did Yemen get here and what is the world doing to help?
After a wave of pro-democracy uprisings occurred across the Arab world, Yemen’s longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdulah Saleh, stepped down, handing his power over to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, Hadi struggled to revive the country which led it to persist through high unemployment and food insecurities. Not only this, but Hadi struggled to achieve the loyalty of his security personnel, who continued to support Saleh. This made it harder for Hadi to prevent attacks by Jihadists and a separatist movement in the south.
With chaos persisting in the country, the Houthi movement decided to take advantage. The movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, repaired their relationship with former president Saleh in order to take control of the capital and much of the north. With the capital, Saana, and neighbouring areas being seized, the group looked towards taking control of the entire country. This forced Mr Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia saw the Houthis, who were said to be backed by Iran, as a threat to their own security. A rise in the Houthis could be an opportunity for Iran to gain a foothold on their border. As a result of this, Saudi Arabia and 8 other mostly Sunni Arab states, began an air campaign aimed at defeating the Houthis, ending Iranian influence in Yemen and restoring Mr Hadi’s government.
Whilst it was predicted that the war would only last a few weeks, it continued for years after. In August 2015, coalition ground troops landed in the southern port city of Aden. This helped drive the Houthis and their allies out of the south. Hadi’s government was then able to re-establish a temporary home in Aden. However, the Houthis remained in Sanaa and the north-west of Yemen.
After a deadly clash in 2017, over Sanaa’s biggest mosque, the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh collapsed, with Saleh being killed during the attacks.
In June of 2018, the coalition launched a major offensive to capture the Red Sea city of Hudaydah from the Houthis. This port was a principal lifeline for almost two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The UN said that the port’s destruction would constitute a tipping point beyond which it was going to be impossible to avert massive loss of life due to famine. This led to 6 months of fighting which ended in a ceasefire under the Stockholm Agreement. Under this agreement, both sides had to redeploy forces from Hudaydah, establish a prison exchange mechanism and address the situation in Taiz. Whilst many prisoners went on to be released, forces were not redeployed.
In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air. This disrupted nearly half of the country’s oil production- representing 5% of global oil output. Whilst the Houthis claimed responsibility for it, Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of carrying out the attacks.
In August of 2019, fighting erupted between the Saudi-backed government forces and the southern separatist movement (Southern Transitional Council, STC). The fighting stopped in November after an agreement was signed. The Riyadh Agreement sought to end a power struggle in the south of Yemen which risked opening a new front in the multifaceted conflict. However, in April 2020, the STC declared self-rule in Aden which broke the agreement.
Fighting between the Houthis and coalition-led forces persisted through the beginning of 2020. However, in April, Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire due to the coronavirus. The Houthis went on to reject this, demanding that air and sea blockades needed to be lifted in Sanaa and Hudaydah.
Whilst fighting persists, Yemenis suffer. Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted numerous indiscriminate airstrikes, using munitions sold by the US, UK and others. This has led to the destruction of civilians and civilian structures. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented at least 5 unlawful attacks on Yemen fishing boats, by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. In addition to this, HRW have calculated that there has been an average of 12 attacks a day. Many of these attacks have destroyed hospitals, schools, buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories and detention centres. Whilst in June 2019, the UK government agreed to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the US have continued. In fact, Donald Trump has vetoed any congressional efforts to end US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This has led to Saudi Arabia being America’s largest weapon buyer.
In addition to this, the Saudi-led coalition has consistently restricted imports into Yemen. This has made the humanitarian situation worse as fuel tankers have been delayed and diverted, critical ports have been closed and goods have been stopped from entering Houthi-controlled seaports. Similarly, Houthis have continued to impose severe movement restrictions, including the flow of aid into Yemen’s third largest city, Taizz. This has had a devastating impact on the local residents.
According to ACLED, over 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including 12,000 civilians, as well as an estimated 85,000 who have died as a result of the ongoing famine. However, as coronavirus has escalated, the issue of Yemen has been ignored. Countries have had to prioritise themselves so that they can tackle and recover from the pandemic. The economic impact of the virus has meant that aid has not been delivered to Yemen. In fact, the UN has said that 30 out of 41 programmes in Yemen will be closed due to not receiving enough funding.
Whilst several charities continue to prioritise Yemen, through delivering aid and creating awareness, the country is far from being saved. Until countries come back together, through the UN, Yemen will continue to be a war-torn country seeping towards the worst famine in 100 years.