Yemen faces today one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever
seen, with over 20 million people bearing the brunt of a sort of proxy war
fought between two sides – the Houthi rebels and the internationally
recognised Government of Yemen. Not many camera lenses turn towards
this blatant violation of even the most basic of human rights – which is why
despite its magnitude, most of the world overlooks its very existence. In this article I wish to highlight a few key points about the war – its origins, current status, severity and possible future outcomes.
A basic overview:
Houthi rebels in the northern part of Yemen have had a rather tumultuous relationship with the Yemeni government since the unification of Yemen in 1990, with various peace treaties and ceasefires being signed and promptly broken. Forces loyal to the late president Ali Abdullah Saleh took over the capital of Yemen, Sana’a, in September 2014, placing the then (and current) president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi under house arrest. Houthi rebels took over most of the government institutions in Sana’a. After his escape to Aden in 2015, Hadi declared that he was still the leader of Yemen, and the temporary capital of Yemen would be shifted to Aden.
Since then, there have been various battles and insurgencies – prominent
ones being the Battle of Aden, Battle of Dhale and the Lahij insurgency.
The war has been labeled the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
A population in peril
It is imperative for us to understand the severity of these conflicts in
humanitarian terms as well as geopolitical. Saudi Arabia continues to lend its support to the Hadi government, issuing extremely strict sea and air blockades to prevent the Houthis from acquiring more supplies. This, however has resulted in the civilians being cut off from humanitarian aid and relief supplies. According to Amnesty International, there are more than 22.2 million people in desperate need for basic supplies such as food, clean water, shelter and proper sanitation. 2.5 million children are out of school; with more than a thousand dead as a result of this conflict. It moves me to tears to read the stories as narrated by the survivors; of the terror they felt as they saw corpses scattered around after airstrikes, as their own children died in their arms due to lack of healthcare. As a person living in a relatively developed country, these problems seem but rather preventable – why is it that the people continue to be crushed between the pincers of these two factions? Saudi Arabia plays an important role in this conflict. In 2015, Saudi Arabia authorised a monetary sum of more that $273 million to be donated to Yemen, with a further $66 million in 2017. However Arabian airstrikes continued to happen, putting at risk the very infrastructure that could serve to help the people.
In addition to this, Yemen currently is suffering the worst cholera outbreak
in known history. The WHO has confirmed that as of December 2017, the number of cases has surpassed 1 million in number. Cholera is an easily
preventable disease; yet because of the rapidly collapsing infrastructures
such as proper sanitation lines and hospitals, people barely have access to
medical aid. Malnutrition serves as the single biggest cause for this outbreak – more than 17 million people are affected by famine.
In May 2015, a five-day ceasefire was brokered to allow relief material to
be delivered to the people in need. It seems to me that this brief
intermission was but a hypocritical one, for if the concerned parties truly
cared for the people, they would have reconciled long ago. This ceasefire
did not last – fighting broke out again in merely three days.
The final straw perhaps is the repetitive bombing and attacks on
organisations that provide medical assistance. A Doctors Without Borders
building was bombed by a Saudi airstrike despite them being aware of the building’s nature; and in 2017 the International red Cross evacuated 71 of its personnel. Their statement reads: “Our current activities have been blocked, threatened and directly targeted in recent weeks, and we see a vigorous attempt to instrumentalise our organisation as a pawn in the conflict.”
A larger perspective
No conflict goes on for so many years without having external influences
backing up the warring factions. The Yemen Civil War, too, involves many
international factors, some of whom try to broker peace while others provide military support.
In 2017, the United States and Saudi Arabia signed a ‘historic’ Arms deal,
totalling $110 billion. Saudi Arabia playing a major role in the Yemeni
conflict, it cannot be overlooked that the US indirectly is causing a deepening of the conflict due to its arms dealings with Saudi Arabia. Their use of the weapons comes under the jurisdiction of their regime, whose political and regional interests have long aroused apprehension and caution in the eyes of many countries around the world. As long as arms are supplied to countries, they will fight.
The United States alleges that Iran backs the Houthi rebels; Iran vehemently denies having any role in this war at all. Here a couple of key questions come into picture: Who is really fighting this war? Is Yemen just a pawn in the hand of mightier militaries who choose to fight this proxy war to assert political dominance? The answer is there for all to see.
United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and
Senegal are a part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi
rebels. Involvement of so many countries in a civil war begs a different way of looking at this conflict altogether.
There exist other parties to this war as well – The Al-Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula occupies 36% of Yemen’s geographical area, with the ISIL
having a reasonable amount of influence in the eastern region too. This certainly rings alarm bells – terrorist organisations taking advantage of a civil war brings back not too fond memories of what happened in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union fell apart.
The bigger picture right now forces us to look at this war from a
humanitarian perspective as well as an unbiased socio-political viewpoint. It
would be in the best interests of the entire world for both the sides to focus
on eliminating AQAP and ISIL from the face of Yemen.
What can come next?
Peace treaties have failed, ceasefires are a mere mockery and human
rights are largely ignored – this war presents a very bleak future for the
people of Yemen. The future is impossible to predict, but there may be
certain ways to improve the situation.
Strategists say cutting off the supply lines of Houthi rebels may lead to their
defeat and subsequent downfall. This would be extremely helpful, but the
war does not end there. History has repeatedly shown us examples of what
can happen in a war-affected nation, from the rise of authoritarian regimes
to a complete destruction of economy leading to sluggish growth. The
Saudi-led coalition must take into consideration the fact that a stable south Yemen would deter Houthi advances; by promoting the accessibility and availability of basic human necessities, they would help the people far more than air strikes and bombings. From a humanitarian point of view, pressure should be mounted upon involved parties to think of the plight of the people involved unwillingly in this conflict, and to take steps to ensure that if not anything else, at least the relief material and aid workers should reach the people in need.
Any humanitarian crisis hurts us all as a collective populace of this planet.
The death of a fellow human makes all of our souls weep, and the inhuman
situations in war zones rends the hearts of those watching. We have suffered through millennia of war, peace and war again; it is now time for
us to discard the prejudices we so willingly embrace and choose to take
upon the more lasting values of brotherhood, peace and humanity as the foundations of a better future.