“It was like something out of judgment day. Corpses and heads scattered, engulfed by fire and ashes…”
This is a quote from Amal Sabri, a resident of Mocha, Yemen, where right now the Yemeni people are experiencing their third year of civil war. Yemen continues to be the site of a brutal conflict between two warring factions that came to a head after the 2011 Yemeni revolution and subsequent transfer of power.
This conflict has been termed The Forgotten War by Amnesty International due to the lack of attention it has received from the international community. Similar crises rage on, like that in Syria which receives near-global condemnation, however, the world seems to turn its head the other way for Yemen.
The conflict, which began in 2015, has devolved into what the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has called the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world” on Twitter. Many have also noted that the war in Yemen seems to be acting as a proxy war for Iran and Saudi Arabia, a conflict in which two actors do not directly engage in conflict with one another, but do so through another means of engagement.
Yemen, a Muslim-majority Arab state, was already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East before the civil war began, with the effects of the ongoing conflict only compounding that economic status. It is important to consider the Arab Spring uprisings when the successful uprising in Tunisia against former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali emboldened similar anti-government protests in most Arab countries in 2011. Just as the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions were occurring, Yemen was also rising up against the regime of their former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. As a result of this sustained protest, former President Saleh was forced to transfer power to his then vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Once in power, President Hadi faced many obstacles to economic and political stability, namely corruption, unemployment, the continued loyalty of many military forces to Saleh and an increase in the presence and attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda.
After the Yemeni Revolution, two main factions emerged: the Houthis and the Hadi government. The Houthis are loyal to former President Saleh and formed the Supreme Revolutionary Committee, also known as the Supreme Political Committee, which hopes to mount an armed resistance to the current regime and its supporters. The Hadi faction is composed of current President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s supporters. In addition, it is being buffered by the Saudi Arabian coalition, which has proved to be crucial for the president. The situation is further complicated by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Yemen Province, both of which have staged suicide attacks throughout the already war-torn country.
The conflict has been called a proxy war for Iran and Saudi Arabia, two long-standing adversaries, because each country has sided with one of the two main factions, buffering them through financial support, military action and causing a general sense of confusion for the international community. Iran backs the rebel Houthi faction, and a Saudi Arabian coalition provides critical support for the Hadi government. Saudi Arabia and the United States of America have accused Iran of supplying weapons and using the Houthis as a puppet to gain influence in the area, an accusation which Iran vehemently denies. The Saudi Arabian coalition is composed of many nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan. The coalition is also supported by the U.S., the United Kingdom. and Australia, among others. The Saudi Arabian coalition has garnered widespread, international condemnation for its bombing of civilian areas.
Saudi Arabia also implemented a blockade, which is a coordinated effort to seal off a specific location to prevent goods and people from leaving or entering, which has proven to be deadly for the Yemeni people desperately in need of humanitarian aid. The blockade was tightened in November of 2017, but eased slightly after three weeks due to intense international pressure. Numerous deaths occurred due to lack of access to hospitals, life-saving medical supplies, a lack of food and water and rampant disease, all of which was exacerbated by the blockade.
The humanitarian effects of the conflict are indescribable. The United Nations has warned that the crisis has the potential to become the worst humanitarian disaster in half a century, reported Al Jazeera. The human toll of the conflict has become apparent through the loss of life and quality of life of those who remain; many of whom have become internally displaced persons or refugees. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recorded 62,052 casualties, with 52,807 injuries. They emphasize that the number is most likely higher, but many facilities are inoperable, meaning they cannot report deaths. 17.8 million people are food insecure and three million are internally displaced, according to UNOCHA.
The lack of infrastructure from the constant fighting and bombings has only compounded the problems within Yemen, leading to what United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned could be “the worst cholera outbreak in the world,” with one million Yemenis impacted. Cholera is a disease which is easily protected against and treated, provided one has access to clean water; something many people in Yemen lack. The water shortage was only made worse during the Saudi blockade and the Saudi coalition bombing of hospitals and aid facilities. Cholera is also made worse when malnutrition is rampant, and in Yemen 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished while half a million babies and toddlers are starving, according to The Washington Post.
The U.S. also plays a role in the conflict through its support of the Saudi coalition, to which the U.S. government provides intelligence about where to strike, logistical support and raids. One of these most recent raids resulted in the first death of an American soldier in combat under the Trump administration, that of William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed during a ground mission. The Pentagon and U.S. military has acknowledged the death of Yemeni civilians, as well as the loss of their own. The discussion seems to end after this brief acknowledgment, reported NPR.
Regardless of the factions fighting for control, the influence of terrorist organizations and the Saudi Coalition, the war in Yemen seems to have largely been forgotten, with the international community often silent as lives are lost each day. The conflict is ongoing, with no end in sight, as human rights abuses are being committed on all sides and outside intervention has resulted in massive civilian casualties. To put it into perspective, 17.8 million Yemeni are unsure where their next meal will come from, with many describing this as a slow and painful death, according to the New York Times.