Behind the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis – Yemen

Yemen – a country on the Southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula with many unique cultural influences stemming from the Sheba Kingdom and early Islam. Previously described by geographers as Arabia Felix, otherwise meaning “happy, fortunate, blessed”, today Yemen is burdened by death, starvation, and war.

The conflict began in 2014 when Houthi insurgents took over country’s capital Sana’a. The Houthi rebels are Zaydi Shiites with ties to Iran who have been fighting against Yemen’s Sunni-majority government since 2004; when they invaded Sana’a in 2014 they demanded a new government as well as lowered fuel prices. President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government resigned in January 2015 when negotiations failed and the Houthi insurgents seized the presidential palace. However, Hadi returned to Aden in September and removed his resignation, following air strikes and economic tactics against the Houthis by a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States. Fighting has continued in the nation since, with power shifting between the Houthis and Hadi’s internationally backed government. A conflict estimated by officials to only last a few weeks has since turned into a more than 5 year-long military stalemate.

As the conflict has continued, numerous human rights violations have been committed on all sides. From civilian casualties alone, more than 15,000 Yemenis have been injured or killed. Even more devastatingly, at least 22 million are in dire need of aid as famine and cholera outbreaks strike the nation. Approximately 2 million children are severely malnourished, which includes the nearly 360,000 children under the age of five who are fighting to survive. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided desperately needed aid to the region, assisting the operation of water supply systems and providing hygiene kits to almost 1 million displaced persons across the country in 2018. The agency has also gathered and sent approximately 750 Rapid Response Teams to assist in the Cholera crisis in Yemen, reaching more than 9 million people in 2018 alone. However, the situation has become more dire as COVID-19 enters the region and the United Nations aid decreases. In June, the UN appeal for $2.42 billion for Yemen came up short by nearly half of the needed funds. Previously, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE had pledged nearly $1.5 billion in annual aid for the UN Yemen effort; the UAE and Kuwait did not offer any aid this year whilst Saudi Arabia provided $500 million – $300 million of which was designated solely for the UN.

One of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 is taking place in Yemen. The health system is on the verge of collapsing due to decimated facilities and dangerously low numbers of medical supplies and staff. As a result, more than 20 million people cannot access necessary healthcare. At a closed virtual UN security council meeting in June, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock affirmed coronavirus was spreading rapidly through Yemen, where quarter of confirmed cases have already died. The lack of immunisation for COVID-19 and Cholera will only lead to an increased death toll within the coming months. Today, 8 million Yemenis – of which almost half are children – rely on UNICEF for basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs as cases of Cholera, COVID-19, and a continuing political crisis destroy the country.

Global combative action has complicated the crisis. Counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda and other militants associated with the ‘Islamic State’ have led to the United States conducting 35 airstrikes in Yemen in 2016 and 130 strikes in 2017. Fighting began last August between Saudi-supported government troops and the Southern Traditional Council (STC), a southern separatist group backed by the UAE. The STC took over Aden, forcing Saudi Arabia to broker a coalition agreement in November. However, this peace was short-lived; Houthi insurgents entered into conflict with coalition forces in January 2020.  This April, following months of air raids and missile strikes, the STC regained control and declared self-rule over Aden and the southern provinces, thus breaking the peace deal with the globally recognised Yemeni government. The Houthis rejected Saudi Arabia’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in response to COVID-19 and demanded a lifting of existing sea and air blockades. Hence, after years of conflict there is no more political certainty in the country nor any form of internationally recognised legitimate government that currently maintains power. 

Molly Finn


“Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?” – BBC News

“War in Yemen” – Council on Foreign Relations

“Yemen: millions of children facing deadly hunger, amidst aid shortages and COVID-19” – UN News

“UNICEF facilitates access to clean water and sanitation services for children and their families in Yemen” – UNICEF

“Experts fear Yemen could suffer one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks” – CNN

“Who are the Houthis, and why are we at war with them?” – The Brookings Institution

The views in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The Liberty Club

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