Civilian deaths are on the rise in Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis continues. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has been dealing with a civil war for the last 2.5 years, a severe famine, and a rapid and deadly outbreak of cholera. Devastatingly, those most affected by the culmination of these crises are civilians. Since the conflict began just over three years ago, the death toll has surpassed 10,000, more than 3 million people have been displaced, and 18.8 million people require humanitarian or protection assistance – 10.3 million of whom urgently require assistance to save or sustain their lives.[1]

Yemen’s ongoing war has created a complex and urgent crisis that will not be soon resolved, and yet news of Yemen’s plight is often missing from international media. This is in part due to the lack of reliable information coming out of the country as journalists are frequently blocked from even entering the country.[2] Worryingly, the lack of media coverage is having a detrimental impact on humanitarian organizations receiving sufficient resources to provide aid that so many desperately need.

How did the Conflict Begin?

 The 2011 Arab Spring uprisings forced the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power after ruling for 22 years. However, the transfer of power to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was riddled with issues that have significantly contributed to today’s competing crises. At the outset, Mr. Hadi’s government was forced to deal with corruption, increasing food insecurity, Al-Qaeda attacks, and strong backlash from supporters of Mr. Saleh and the increasingly active Houthi movement.[3] In 2014, the Houthis declared themselves as the new government of Yemen by seizing control of the capital, Sana’a. After the Houthis dissolved Parliament in 2015, Mr. Hadi reasserted his dominance as the legitimate president; shortly thereafter, conflict between the opposing sides marked the commencement of the Yemeni Civil War.

Internal Conflict to Proxy War

Despite the Houthis’ assertions that they took over government in 2015, the international community widely recognizes Mr. Hadi as the legitimate president. However, allegations that the Houthis receive significant support from Iran are a cause for concern for many nations, particularly Gulf States allied with Saudi Arabia. A multinational coalition, led by Saudi Arabia (with backing from the United States), initiated airstrikes against Houthi fighters in support of Mr. Hadi’s government. The coalition is endeavouring to restore Mr. Hadi to power while also promoting stabilization in the region against Al-Qaeda and Daesh, both of whom have strengthened at the expense of Yemen’s instability.[4] However, many believe that Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the coalition is also intended to weaken the Houthis due to their alleged alignment with Iran.

Furthermore, attacks made by the multinational coalition have, controversially, been a significant factor in the increasing civilian death toll. Even more troubling, a United Nations panel determined that there had been “widespread and systemic attacks on civilian targets” by the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which is a violation of international humanitarian law.

Effects of Conflict on Civilian Life: “The Human Cost of War”

The cost of this civil war on Yemen’s population has been crippling. For example, in Taiz, a city that has been a fierce battleground between coalition forces and the Houthis, half of the population has fled, hospitals are closed or barely functioning, school doors have been shuttered for months on end, electricity is sporadic, at best, and medications, food, and essential resources have been in severely short supply, if not outright depleted.[5] With the additional impacts of ongoing mortar attacks, airstrikes, and attacks from both sides of the conflict, for the people who remained in the city, continuing with daily life is nearly impossible.

To make matters worse, Yemen is now facing the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.[6] What started as a handful of cases in 2016, has now resulted in nearly 2,000 deaths and more than half of a million suspected cases have been found – approximately 5,000 new cases each day.6,[7] This deadly, insidious disease thrives in conditions of poor sanitation, poverty, and poor governance, however, can be easily treated by simple rehydration or vaccination. Yemen’s current instability, weakened population, ongoing famine, and lack of functional medical centres and appropriate resources has allowed it become a breeding ground for this highly contagious disease, resulting in a terrifying rate of infection and loss of life.

Yemen’s Uncertain Future

Yemen is no longer on the brink of failing as a state; it has arguably reached this grim status. The enduring conflict, pervasive cholera outbreak, widespread famine, and the crippling lack of aid, medical supplies, services, and resources across this already underdeveloped country demonstrate the country’s dire circumstances.

Yemeni civilians feel they have been forced into this war and no longer know who can be trusted or what is next for their country.5 Unfortunately, severe effects of this ongoing conflict will particularly be felt by the younger generations. As schools remain closed, attacks continue to result in the loss of children’s lives, cholera and famine weakens or kills the already-malnourished young, and as young jihadi fighters join the Houthi or other rebel movements, the future of Yemen’s youth remains uncertain.[8]

The war is draining the country and having devastating effects on civilian welfare; the longer conflict continues, the longer it will take – and the harder it will be – for the country to recover. UN-brokered peace talks between opposing sides of the civil war have had little progress, but many are holding on to a political solution to reaching peace. As fighting between the two sides intensifies, Yemen’s road to peace will undoubtedly be lengthy and challenging, and unfortunately for civilians, the situation is likely to worsen before it improves.

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Article written by Sarah THOMPSON


References

[1] Al Jazeera News (2017), Yemen: the World’s largest Humanitarian Crisis, Al Jazeera, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/yemen-world-largest-humanitarian-crisis-170703130224623.html

[2] Al Jazeera News (2017), Saudi-led coalition bars UN, BBC flight to Yemen, Al Jazeera, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/saudi-led-coalition-bars-bbc-flight-yemen-170719081527078.html

[3] BBC News (2017),  Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?, BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423

[4] Abdoulaziz, M. N. (2016),  Saudi Arabia is bombing in Yemen to bring peace and stability, The Telegraph, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/yemen/12176705/Saudi-Arabia-is-bombing-in-Yemen-to-bring-peace-and-stability.html

[5] Al Ahmad, S. (2016),  Yemen under siege, PBS, available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/yemen-under-siege/

[6] Connery, N. (2017), Yemen in grip of world’s worst cholera outbreak, iTV, available at http://www.itv.com/news/2017-07-18/yemen-in-grip-of-worlds-worst-cholera-outbreak/

[7] WHO (2017),  Yemen cholera report no. 4, World Health Organization, available at http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/20170719_WHO_cholera_SitRep_4_v2.pdf?ua=1

[8] Dearden, L. (2017),  Yemen civil war: 20 civilians including women and children ‘killed in Saudi-led air strike,’ UN says , Independent, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/yemen-civil-war-civilian-houthis-deaths-taiz-saudi-arabia-air-strike-victims-war-crimes-un-a7848276.html

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