MENA • Yemen: “A Humanitarian crisis out of control”

Embroiled in conflict for the past two years, Yemen is facing today a crisis of unparalleled proportions. In this country of about 28 million people[1], a total of 17 million Yemenis are food insecure[2]. Moreover, nearly seven million people are on the brink of famine, and conditions are worsened by sporadic outbreaks of insidious infectious diseases such as Cholera.

The immediate cause of this turn for the worst was Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen’s land, air, and sea routes last week, brought upon by the firing of a ballistic missile on Riyadh’s airport. Aid workers from agencies such as the United Nations and Doctors without Borders are not being let into the country, nor are vital supplies of food and chlorine tablets, which prevent cholera.

Yemen has been submerged in conflict since 2015, but its complicated and turbulent history dates back much further. To begin, it is useful to remember that Yemen has not always existed as the singular modern state it encompasses today. North Yemen and South Yemen gained independence from Great Britain as two separate countries in the 1960s, and they did not merge into one nation until 1990. Composed of 2 distinct entities with separate histories, the new Yemeni nation-state was forged on the false premises of one common tradition.

Civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015 after Houthi rebels attacked the capital Sana’a and ousted then-president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, dissolving Parliament and convening a Revolutionary Committee to run the country. Hadi fled to his hometown of Aden in the south, from which he declared his status as the legitimate president of Yemen in a televised address. In response, his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who many suspected of having collaborated with the Houthis, called on him to resign.

This conflict between the Houthis and the loyalists continues today, with no clear end in sight. It is complicated by the fact that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have entered the fray, claiming certain regions and intensifying violence. However, this war is not merely a matter of internal Yemeni politics. The involvement of international coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia in support of Hadi’s government and the suspected involvement of Iran in support of the Houthis has turned the Yemeni conflict into a full-blown proxy civil war, with countless civilians caught in the crossfire.

Yemen today is suffering from a full-blown humanitarian crisis. In some ways, this crisis is not one of supply per se but of demand: the markets in many cities are crowded with goods, but prices are so high and wages are so low (if they are paid at all, that is), that customers are scarce. They cannot afford to purchase any of the food they need. Moreover, most of the country suffers from a severe lack in medical facilities: costs are too high for most services to function, supplies are scarce and do not arrive regularly, and many buildings have been bombed by coalition strikes. These coalition strikes have remarkably high civilian casualty rates and render the Yemeni conflict particularly dangerous for civilians, many of whom live in a constant atmosphere of fear and desperation.

Action must be taken to remedy the current situation, but problems are so numerous that it is hard to know where to begin. Politics aside, we could start by ending the blockades of transportation routes, which should be seen as a candid disregard for human rights; the refusal to let basic food and health supplies into the country is akin to a passive death sentence. Coalition forces could put pressure on the Saudi government to act on this matter, while simultaneously reviewing their own weapons sales. The U.S. and U.K. alike sell weapons to the Saudi government despite their unconscionably high civilian casualty rates, which represents total incoherence between our stated values and what our actions achieve. This point must also reviewed. Yemen has long been a country very much understudied and ignored, the tangible consequences of which include little aid funding and nonexistent international attention. We ought to change this narrative now, before we find ourselves on the other side of history.

[1] This January 2017 estimate was taken from the CIA World Factbook.

[2] According to the World Food Programme, this constitutes 60% of the country’s population.


Article by Sophia QADIR


Almosawa, Shuaib, Hubbard, Ben and Griggs, Troy. “’It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis”. The New York Times. August 23 2017.

“Yemen conflict: How bad is the humanitarian crisis?”. BBC News. March 28 2017.

Craig, Iona. “’Only God can save us’: Yemeni children starve as aid is held at border.” The Guardian. November 12 2017.


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