The Yemeni Crisis: Why I Care and Why We All Should

AFP via Getty Images

Giselle Gao

“…The largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people – some 80 per cent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance…” 

Foregrounding the matter-of-fact statement, a sequence of images flashed across the TV screen: of children – newborn babies – seeking shelter in their mother’s arms. Their every rib protruded, their large eyes wandered vapidly, and blinking seemed an ordeal.

“Cholera cases are spreading fast, doctors are facing a severe shortage of drugs…” continued the reporter, “Today’s only meal is a plate of plain boiled rice between the family.” 

I looked back at the dinner table. The clanging of wine glasses subdued as the feasters began retreating to bed. Lying on the table were the remains of a sumptuous New Year’s Eve meal. 

Pausing, I felt my cheeks burn with a surge of shock, anger, horror – and shame. Just moments before, I had been sitting with my family, complaining about how we couldn’t travel around Europe as planned. 

But what is this compared to those in Yemen?

I could not bring this up to those around me. Not my family. Not friends. I did not know how to begin speaking. I did not know how to speak without sounding like I was full of pity.

I was not full of pity. Instead, it was anger. A sense of anger that I do not believe can be justly expressed in such a part of the world in which I live. I was not sure what emotions I would arouse – or if any at all. 

Hence, I sat down to write this article, knowing, in a world where every second is saturated with “news”, it may have no repercussions. But, this is what I need to do. It is what I am able to do, within my limited power, to make a change, even if it is merely within myself.

I think, perhaps, it was those eyes. Those large, yearning eyes of the Yemeni children. Starved, but full of curiosity. It is for them that I write. That one day they may be noticed, and found, within the sea of headlines and articles. 

I understand that this article is merely an introduction to the brewing crisis within the nation, backed by historical context of the conflict and facts about the current situation. I fully acknowledge that we. However, I hope that it will help you visualize the corporeal suffering, not the statistics. 

The population of Yemen has been on the brink of starvation even before the Yemeni civil war intensified in 2015. Along with the shortage of food, illness and displacement were rampantly spreading around the nation. All this was exacerbated as fighting broke out between the Houthi rebels – with support from Iran – and Abdrabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi’s former government. Aided by Saudi Arabia, Hadi’s government was further bolstered by a coalition of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Sudan. Ultimately, this armed conflict is a proxy-war fought between the two major powers in the Arab region, Iran and Saudi Arabia, with its core cause traceable to the extremely politicized religious schism between the Shi’a and Sunni branches of Islam.  

In 2014, the Houthi Rebels, a Shi’a minority, rose up against Hadi’s government with claims of being marginalized as well as dissatisfaction toward Hadi, due to his failure to fulfill his promises to create changes within the country. Meanwhile, Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from office by the Gulf Cooperation Council (a coalition of nations led by Saudi Arabia) which assisted Hadi to power, aligned himself with the Houthis. Their shared aim, to drive Hadi out of power, resulted in success, whereby Hadi was forced to flee the nation and seek protection from Saudi Arabia, consequently sparking war. As a Sunni-dominant nation, Saudi Arabia’s firm support for Hadi can be seen as a means to impede the growth of Shi’a authority – and their biggest rival, Iran. 

Over the past six years, Yemen has been the battleground for two mutually hostile nations competing to dominate the Middle East. But it is not an empty field. It is a nation. The home country to 30 million people. And today, it is still at war. 

Throughout continuous fighting, the lives of Yemeni civilians have been torn to pieces. In this state of national emergency, there is not a single leader that the Yemeni people can rely on. Neither has there been any substantial aid from the international community. Worse yet, there is no hope for the fighting to end. In fact, the United States has been in active assistance of Saudi Arabia by refueling Saudi aircrafts used in airstrikes on Yemeni civilians, prolonging the war: as of 2020, there have been more than 20,100 airstrikes, aimed deliberately at hospitals, schools, transport utilities such as boats and buses, markets, farms, factories, jails as well as mosques. The Houthis, too, have committed humanitarian abuses including the active destruction of aid and basic necessities.

Since Saudi Arabia initiated the land, sea and air blockade of Yemen in 2015, tightening the supply of basic necessities – food, medication, fuel and international aid, the already penurious and import-dependent population of Yemen had, in 2019, become impoverished to the extreme where around 21 million of the nation’s total 30 million people became in need of humanitarian aid. 

“Yemen is the world’s most dangerous place for children”, said the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Ann Linde. Indeed, as of March 2021, it is predicted that more than 50% of children below the age of five will suffer acute malnutrition and starvation if no aid is provided. The United Nations, on the other hand, suggested that 400,000 children may die of starvation this year. The utter disregard of humanitarian laws on Saudi Arabia’s behalf has resulted in preventable diseases, such as diphtheria, being spread rampantly across the nation.

The youths of Yemen, despite living in the persistent noise of bombing, are seeking to pursue education in the shelter of shell-wrecked yet still standing debris. Like the rest of the nation, they have accepted. 

In late 2019, the outbreak of Covid-19 and its subsequent evolution into a global pandemic had unexpectedly and instantly pushed the world into an abyss of economic and social disorder. Since February, the number of Covid-19 cases in Yemen has increased exponentially, reaching 4,361 cases in one day by March. Moreover, natural disasters like locust plague, flooding, and torrential rains have aggravated the conditions of the civilians.  

Last month, Saudi Arabia offered a ceasefire to the Houthis under the supervision of the United Nations, but its grip on supplies into Yemen remains tight. As a response, the Houthis have raised the demand to terminate the blockade, which is echoed by 80 members of the Democratic Party in the United States. In the letter to President Biden on April 6, 2021, they urged the president to “immediately, unilaterally and comprehensively” lift the blockade on Yemen, declaring that the prolonged negotiation procedure only “pushes more children to the brink of death”. 

For many of us, Covid-19 saw a dramatic change in our lifestyles: to socialise with one another – what we viewed as routine-like and unavoidable – suddenly became the most cherished yet unachievable privilege. But, to those in Yemen, the idea of dining in restaurants or playing club sports has perhaps never entered their minds. Tormenting them instead, on a daily basis, is a single, brutal decision: hunger or illness. 

“Covid-19 is not only a global health crisis; it also acts as a magnifying glass”. As Switzerland’s Ignazio Cassis rightly identified, the Yemen humanitarian crisis was never caused by the pandemic. Nonetheless, the suffering of the people was significantly worsened not only by the spread of the virus but more so the lack of care from the rest of the world in the state of a pandemic. Yemen is in dire need of help.