- Isabelle Fonseca & Yasmine Vakili
The Civil War and Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen: A Global Perspective
Yemen’s years-long war rages on amidst extreme humanitarian violations. Almost 8 years since the start of the Civil war in 2014, and over hundreds of thousands killed both directly and indirectly, the topic remains underreported and vague in Western news. Bombarded with accounts of violence and chaos from one of the poorest Arab countries on the brink of famine, the civil war’s origins remain a misunderstood crisis.
For years prior to the civil war, Yemen was facing a struggling economy, rising oil prices, and a corrupt government that angered citizens. Opposition parties, such as the Houthis, were gaining support in protest of the oppressive regime in place.
The Houthi party is the dominant opposition group in Yemen that is majority Shia. Their goal is to fight for “government accountability, an end to corruption, job opportunities, fair fuel prices, and regular utilities” in Yemen, and demand a better political system in place.
Following the Tunisian revolution and the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, the Houthi movement was part of a wide national uprising against Yemen’s President Saleh. Houthi rebels created their own form of government independent from Yemeni authorities in 2011 in the Saada Governorate. Along with civil disobedience and propaganda, Houthi rebels have resorted to violence and military combat.
In 2012, a presidential election was held where president Al-Hadi won a supermajority of 99.8% of the vote—it is worth noting that such a figure is not possible in a fair democracy.
In 2014, Houthis began demonstrations against high fuel prices and took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Prime Minister Basindama resigned and the Houthis created a new unity government. This insurgency quickly transitioned into a civil war. In 2015, President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia joined the war to prevent the chances of Houthi-Saleh from getting complete control of the country.
With a major civil war and extreme violence in the last seven years, the country has experienced political instability, high death rates, extreme hunger and malnutrition, and a severe lack of basic commodities.
As a rentier state, Yemen’s reliance on supporting the economy comes from oil exports to nearby states. Because of the civil war, energy sectors have been significantly affected. In 2015, almost all oil and natural gas production was shut-in, and in 2018 production significantly fell from 328 billion cubic feet to just 3 billion cubic feet. Yemen’s economy has been on the decline ever since. This economic crisis has left Yemen unable to provide basic needs to citizens.
Children have been the most affected. An estimated 12.3 million children need immediate aid in the form of food, water, sanitation, and healthcare. Over 1.7 million children in and around the Marib area have been internally displaced. As of October 2021, 10,000 children had been killed or maimed since the start of the civil war.
Education has also been compromised. Due to war-related destruction, 1 and 6 schools have been put out of commission. An estimated 2 million children are out of school, another 4 million are on the verge of dropping out. More recently, children have been recruited by Houthi forces from varying camps. Taught to clean weapons and evade rockets, children are also instructed to recite the Houthi Slogan: “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.” Over 2,000 children as young as seven years old have died as a result of active combat.
Major humanitarian aid is desperately needed, but many organizations are being blocked from delivering aid. Between May and September 2020, the Houthi forces blocked 262 containers in Hodeida port sent by the World Health Organization and a large shipment of Personal protective equipment to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign aid to Yemen has also been delayed and prohibited by the Saudi Arabian air and sea blockade set in 2015. The blockade, which many people mistakenly believe is to restrict Iranian arms imports into the country, serves little to no purpose other than to exacerbate the life-threatening situation in Yemen.
The UN calls the international failure of delivering aid to Yemen “the worst international response to a humanitarian crisis,” further expressing that the continued violation of human rights has irreversible, detrimental effects. Over 131,000 of the 233,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015 are the result of indirect causes such as food insecurity.
According to the Global Conflict Tracker of the Yemen crisis, the conflict is worsening yet reporting on the topic has been scarce. Underreporting has created limited social pressure to support NGOs contributing to help this cause. One way to contribute to furthering change in Yemen is by contributing to NGOs such as Save the Children in Yemen to help this country through its humanitarian crisis.
The crisis in Yemen has affected people all around the country, but children are the most compromised demographic. Yemen faces a declining future in the global economy without a growing workforce population. If the forces fighting in this war can’t respect and protect the lives of their own citizens, how can they be expected to uphold international law? To promise a better life to these children, the war must end, but is this end anywhere near?
Alternate sources consider the Yemeni Civil war as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries fighting for hegemonic influence in the Middle East. Although both countries have not yet directly engaged in combat, experts label their involvement in the Yemeni Civil war as the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Cold War. Iran’s Shia government supplies the Houthis with arms and aid in an attempt to deter Saudi Arabian influence in Yemen, while Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni population, supports President Hadi through military strikes and aid. The conflict in Yemen has been largely funded and exacerbated by both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Beyond Saudi Arabian and Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen, President Biden’s announcement of the end of U.S. support of Saudi-led intervention struggled to provide change. Like most Middle Eastern politics, Yemen’s Civil War is no different - the situation is more complex and multilayered than simply a proxy war or political instability. While the United States can pressure Saudi and Iranian interventions to end through sanctions, the Houthis are a self-governing group with no international ties or relationships that can be leveraged in this situation. The fighting may stop, but Houthi power and influence will not. What must be done to end the world's worst humanitarian crisis moving forward?