Writer: Julie Ngalle
In the last month, the UN’s declaration that Yemen is facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis has been gaining more attention. But what exactly is and has been going on in Yemen, and why does it matter?
It is, as all conflicts are, very complex and there are many factors that have led to the situation being as bad as it is today, one of which is the political context. It started with a civil war in the 2010s. The country grew increasingly tired and frustrated with the undemocratic ways of the 20-year running former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Yemenis rebelled against their government and with the help of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), they succeeded in forcing Saleh out. He was replaced by the former Vice-President of Yemen: Abd-Rabbu Mansour Had and a completely new government was put in place. Unfortunately, Had did not bring much positive change to a country that continued to be led by a corrupt elitist old man. The difference here is that this man was supported by the GCC and Saudi Arabia, the Council’s most influential member. And this is where the real trouble began.
In 2014, many Yemenis groups started to lose patience, the marginalised Houthis – Shia Muslim group from Northern Yemen – being one of them. They decided to join forces with some of former President Saleh’s allies and rebel against the government, leading Abd-Rabbu Mansour Had to flee when the rebels took over Sanaa (Yemen’s capital city) that same year.
However, Had, the current President, had Saudi-Arabia as an ally, and they took military action in Yemen to restore Had’s government. In 2015, a land, sea and air barrier was created so that no supplies and aid could get in or out the country, giving the GCC and Abd-Rabbu Mansour Had full control. On the rare occasion where they did enter the country, Houthis either took the supplies as their own or in many cases destroyed the aid. As this progressed, schools, buildings and people were being bombed by airstrikes daily and it didn’t stop there.
In 2017, the betrayal of former President Saleh who had decided to join the coalition, along control Yemen’s capital and are now allegedly helped by a new player: Iran. Iran has expressed support of the group for years but always denied helping them militarily, but evidence and international suspicion say otherwise. This would mean that the war in Yemen is not only a civil one but one where rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are also trying to dominate each other. What complicates matters further is Saudi Arabia and Iran’s involvement links all their allies to the war in Yemen, and as the United Nations have stated this could constitute a “war crime”. with his assassination by the Houthis marked the end of their alliance. Today, Houthis still
As this war is going on, the economy has effectively been paused resulting in most Yemenis being unemployed and none receiving a monthly income. Socially, the situation is not any better with the population having little to no access to the schools and hospitals that are being destroyed by bombings. This had already created a situation where in 2017, more than half of the population was living in extreme poverty and in need of some type of humanitarian assistance.
There is one last factor that holds its responsibility in Yemen’s situation today. Their health and sanitary crisis. The ongoing war has made it very difficult for the country to have access to medical assistance and healthcare facilities as they are either destroyed or stolen. This means that preventable diseases such as measles or cholera have been circulating and killing many more Yemenis. In 2020, a certain illness known as COVID-19 became our shared reality and the effects in Yemen have inevitably been devastating. The country already suffered from a cholera epidemic that it was unable to combat and the not-yet curable pandemic is therefore serving as the last straw.
All of these factors explain why the UN has called Yemen the most critical humanitarian crisis in the world. Today, it is 24 out of the 28 million people, about 80% of the population, that need humanitarian assistance. 12 million of these are children who are often suffering from malnutrition. In a world where only essential shops and commerce were accessible for us, these types of services barely even exist in Yemen anymore. Neither do schools, hospitals nor, for many, housing. It has been reported that France, the United Kingdom and the United States could be involved in the conflict since these countries continue to provide weapons and intelligence to the fighters, despite US military forces having now exited the conflict. Due to the non-stop airstrikes, the Yemenis population has confessed to not feeling safe or protected anywhere in the country. Not only do they live in constant fear, but they also have to combat extreme poverty and sanitary crises.
Just like with every social or humanitarian crisis, spreading the word and talking about it can make a significant difference, whether that be on social media, at home or with friends. Below you can find a list of petitions you can sign and funds you can donate to, in order to make sure Yemen does not completely disappear from world maps in a matter of years.
How you can help:
Funds and Charities:
If you are unable to donate, sharing the links to these funds can help just as much.
-UNICEF UK: https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/yemen/
-Islamic Relief: https://www.islamic-relief.org.uk/yemen-emergency-appeal/