Yemen: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis
Updated: May 2
The Yemen Crisis (2014-present)
Internal political instability over corruption collided with international hostilities to create the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, seeing the direct and systematic targeting of civilians within the conflict.
Yemen was steeped in a tenuous political situation following the unification of Yemen in 1990, establishing the President of the Yemen Arab Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as Yemen’s first democratically elected president in 1999. Growing tensions occurred during the 2000s due to calls of discrimination, economic inequality, mass unemployment and corruption led to the Yemeni Revolution of 2011-2012 in tandem with other Arab Spring protests. Labelled the Yemeni Revolution of Dignity, the revolution saw tens of thousands protest in favour of democracy against the government’s status-quo. This resulted in President Ali Abdullah Saleh being forced from power in 2012 after his 33rd year of rule, in favour of his vice president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
However, this violent cataclysm pushed Yemen’s political issues to the fore, and led opposing forces, such as the Houthis, and an international coalition of the Saudi’s; to taking a more active lead in the country’s future to attempt to establish their desired governments. The Houthis are a Shia group who sought to overthrow a government they saw as corrupt, fighting from 2004 onwards, increasing in strength until 2014 when they took over the capital city of Yemen, Sana’a in 2014. Political rivalries came to a head here with Saudi Arabia intervening in response to this insurgency with an Arab coalition, escalating the Yemen conflict into a full-blown civil war. For this reason the Yemen Crisis is seen by some not simply as an internal conflict between forces of democracy and corruption but instead the site of major regional and global conflicts playing out within the country.
Pressure from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula only added to the turmoil and contributed to a destabilised social and political landscape in the 2010s, making it more difficult for a government to peacefully resolve the socio-political enmity within the country. Saudi Arabia continues to play a part in supporting the internationally recognised government of Yemen, against the Houthis, who they claim, are backed by Iran. Ongoing friction between Iran and the United States, due to their present attempted Nuclear Deal, remains a factor in the conflict as the United States back Saudi Arabia both financially and in direct military aid. Similarly, sectarian tensions are sometimes attributed as a cause of the conflict between Shia and Sunni Islam, although international political theorists cite Yemen’s history of relative religious harmony as evidence that this is only one side of the conflict.
Most notably however the Houthi occupied territory represents the largest areas of Yemen, with fighting occurring in and amongst civilian life. Both sides of the conflict have resorted to increasing drone strikes, affecting civilian areas of Yemen to a significant degree. Backwards and forwards attacks and retaliation from both Yemen Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition (including the United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Sudan, Morocco and Qatar) has meant that the on-the-ground life in Yemen has remained abominable. Civilians live day-to-day in uncertainty, unable to establish life-saving infrastructure, such as hospitals, food shelters, housing, to provide for their essential needs. Thousands of Yemeni have been killed, including men, women, and children, with the humanitarian disaster reaching astonishing levels.
A cholera epidemic emerged in Yemen, with nearly a million suspected cases in Yemen due to the shattered infrastructure, lack of sanitary water and safe food - making this the worlds fastest spreading cholera outbreak in modern history, and one of the most deadly. Meanwhile famine in Yemen reaches an all-time high, with a Saudi Arabian blockade of food and humanitarian aid bringing the civilians of Yemen to the brink of starvation. 230,000 people were estimated to have died within 2015 to 2020 alone, with an estimated 85,000 children dying from starvation from 2015 to 2018. Famine remains extreme, although a partial release in the blockade has allowed some aid to get through. The situation in Yemen remains inconceivable, with some likening this disaster to genocide.
"My hope for the future is to settle down, have my own house and get married,” Musa* says. He is one of Yemen’s many children who feels, hopes and dreams just like anyone else in the world, yet his life was turned upside down by fighting. When Musa was hit by an artillery shell at age 10 his family were forced to flee from the violence, forcing a stop to his education while they tried to escape with their lives.
“Omar and his brother Mahmoud* were walking in the neighbourhood one day when an artillery shell hit. Tragically, Mahmoud died before he could be treated at the hospital.
Omar* wishes he could still play with his late brother, and the emotional toll of losing his sibling and sustaining his own critical injuries will likely endure long after the wounds have healed.
"Mahmoud wanted to become a pilot," says his mother, "now he flew away."
"I want the world to alleviate the suffering of the children in Taiz. I wonder why a shell should kill a child who is just playing. This is the biggest crime, the biggest war that destroys mothers and children."