Yemen is one of Arab’s poorest countries. In fact, as of 2015, Yemen ranks 168 out of 188 on the Human Development Index, a composite statistic which measures life expectancy, education and income. With a war between forces loyal to the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement going on its 2nd year, with no end in sight, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion has struck Yemen. Since March of 2015, 7,600 deaths have occurred, and over 42,000 have been injured, mostly via air strikes by Saudi led multinational coalitions that support the President.
The conflict started during the political transition between then President, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Hadi, his deputy in November 2011. During the transition of power, Hadi had difficulties establishing authority, Yemen was attacked by al-Qaeda, and many military officers continued to show their loyalty to the outgoing President, Saleh. Yemen was also facing a time of corruption, food insecurity, and high un-employment.
The Houthi movement, Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, took advantage of the weakness and with the support of the Yemen people and Sunnis, they entered the capitol city in September of 2014, taking it over. The Houthi’s established street camps and put up road blocks. By January of 2015, the Houthi’s had established their dominance, and surrounded the Presidential Palace and other Government buildings, blockading officials into a sort of “house arrest”.
In March 2015, the President, Hadi, escaped, fleeing Yemen. He left a well-established force of Houthis and those loyal to Saleh to take over and establish dominance even further. Alarmed by the growing conflict, Saudi Arabia and 8 other Suni Arab states began air strikes to restore order to Yemen, and President Hadi’s government. The multi-national coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom.
After 2 years of conflict, a victory remains far away, but has left thousands dead, and 70% of the Yemen population is in need; a humanitarian disaster. Civilian deaths total over 4,500 thus far, and over 8,200 injuries have occurred according to the United Nations. Just under half of Yemen’s population are under the age of 18. Therefore, children account for one third of all civilian deaths since the conflict started 2 years ago.
This war, or “conflict”, has taken a huge toll on Yemen’s 27 million people. It has left 17 million people food insecure, and 6.8 million SEVERELY food insecure. In addition, 14.4 million people are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, creating a Cholera Epidemic. 2 million people have been internally displaced, and 180,000 people have fled the country of Yemen. 3.3 million children are acutely malnourished, and 462,000 people face SEVERE ACUTE malnutrition. A statistic that is difficult to even comprehend.
Why do we need to be concerned? The threat of al-Qaeda and its global outreach is a concern to all nations. Al-Qaeda gaining strength in Yemen with access to the Red Sea, where much of the world’s oil shipments pass through, has potentially grave consequences. It is highly suspected that Al-Qaeda’s funding and support reaches into Iran, although Iran continues to deny such allegations. In November of 2016, weapons seized in the Arabian Sea heading to Houthi rebels in Yemen, included guns which appeared to be made in Iran, Russia and possibly North Korea. To increase why we should be concerned, media coverage of the Yemen conflict has been less than normal due to the difficulties of travel into Yemen, and the safety of journalists. Furthermore, there is a division in outlook even amongst Arab regions regarding military intervention. The three different Arab strategies of: providing military involvement, those against military intrusion, and the approach of “standing by”, is causing division throughout the Arab regions and is weakening unity. This lack of cohesion provides opportunity for conflict to expand. But at the heart of why we should be concerned, is the humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportion.