Yemen is situated in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. Unlike most Arab countries, Yemen is not blessed with an abundance of oil resources. While countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE have become noticeably wealthy in the last fifty years, Yemen has remained a poor country with limited resources. Since the latter part of 2014, Yemen has been plagued with a vicious civil war which has left the nation devastated. A massive number of people have died since the beginning of the conflict. Many are facing starvation, and suffering from preventable diseases and malnutrition. The UN has described the Yemeni Crisis as "the world's worst humanitarian disaster."
The origin of the Yemeni conflict can be traced to the Arab Spring movement in 2011. After ruling the country as a dictator for over three decades, then President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down and handed over power to then Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Soon afterwards, Hadi was unable to deal with issues such as constant attacks by religious extremists, a separatist movement in southern Yemen, security forces being loyal to his predecessor, corruption, unemployment, and food shortages. In 2014, Houthi rebels, a Shia group in Yemen having a history of uprisings against Saleh's regime, seized the Yemeni capital and largest city, Sanaa.
The rebels demanded decreases in fuel prices and the formation of a new government. Many Yemeni Sunnis also supported the Houthis. In January 2015, the Houthis grabbed control of the presidential palace after negotiations had failed. This subsequently led to the resignation Hadi and his government. In March 2015, a Gulf coalition led by Saudi Arabia was formedand they imposed economic sanctions and launched airstrikes on Houthi rebels. The United States actively backed these actions.
A full-blown civil war broke out after the Houthis were attacked by airstrikes in 2015. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries in the coalition believed that the Houthis were backed and supported by Iran, and hence, decided to take active measures to dismantle what they believed to be Shia influence in the region. In August 2015, the coalition sent ground troops to Aden and they eventually forced the Houthis out of most of Southern Yemen. Hadi's government is temporarily based in Aden, but he has been residing in Saudi Arabia ever since he went into exile. The Houthis still maintain control of the capital, Sanaa, and large portions of western Yemen. With the hope of coming back to power, Saleh allied himself with the Houthis in their fight against Hadi's government. The alliance fell apart in 2017 due to disputes over the control of Sanaa.
The Houthis conducted a military operation to take complete control over the country's capital city and eventually killed Saleh. The Houthis have successfully been able to launch drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabian territory. Saudi oil-fields in Abqaiq and Khuraisfell victim to Houthi airstrikes in September 2019. This affected nearly 50 percent of Saudi Arabia's oil production, which was 5 percent of the world's total output. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the IS outfit active in the region have seized areas in southern Yemen and carried out devastating attacks in Aden, capitalizing on the volatile situation in the country.
A ballistic missile was directed at Riyadh in 2017, and this subsequently provoked the Saudi government to further strengthen the ongoing blockade on Yemen. This led to rises in food and fuel prices, worsening the food crisis.Saudi Arabia has said that the purpose of the blockade was to prevent Iranian weapons from reaching the Houthis in Yemen (An allegation that Tehran denies). In 2018, coalition forces attacked the Red Sea city of Hudayah to seize control of it from the Houthi. Two-thirds of the Yemeni population is dependent on this city's port and hence, its destruction is likely to lead to a catastrophic famine. The two sides fought over Hudayah for six months, after which a ceasefire was agreed upon in Sweden.
According to the Stockholm Agreement, the two sides had to redeploy their forces from Hudayah, set up a prisoner exchangeprogram, and try to find a solution for the conflict in Taiz. After facing increasing international condemnation, the UAE announced the withdrawal of its forces in Yemen in 2019. In August 2019, an armed conflict betweenSaudi-backed government forces, and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group backed by the UAE, began in the south of the country. STC forces took control of Aden in November 2019 and prevented the cabinet from returning to the city till a power-sharing deal was brokered by the Saudi regime. The UN expected that the agreement would gradually lead to a political settlement which would bring an end to the violent civil war.
Unfortunately, in January 2020, the intensity of the military conflict increased as Houthi rebels and coalition forces engaged in fighting in several areas, and carried out air-raids, and missile strikes. The STC announced self-rule in Aden this April which violated an agreement with the internationally recognized Yemeni government. They stated that they would rule over Aden and the southern provinces. The coronavirus pandemic prompted Saudi Arabia to declare a unilateral ceasefire in the same month, but it was rejected by the Houthis. The latter demanded the end of the air and sea blockades of Sanaa and Hudayah. Presently, the war is still being fought with no end in sight in the foreseeable future.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), 100,000 people have lost their lives due to the civil war, with 12,000 civilian deaths. Most of the deaths are a result of Saudi airstrikes. The World Food Programme (WFP) has estimated that 24 million Yemenis require humanitarian assistance while 20 million are suffering from food insecurity. Save the Children has stated that 85,000 children may have died from severe acute malnutrition between April 2015 and October 2018.
20 million Yemenis lack access to proper healthcare as only 50 percent of the country's 3,500 medicalfacilities are currently in operation. Around 18 million people do are devoid of sufficient clean water or access to proper sanitation. Yemen's severely damaged healthcare system meant that the country was unable to deal with a cholera outbreak in 2016 which has since claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 individuals along with 2.2 million possible cases.A massive 3.65 million people have been displaced due to the war.
Since 2014, Yemen has been victim to a horrific conflict which has shattered the lives of millions. Decades of dictatorship were marked by poor governance and a severe lack of political freedom, which left the Yemeni population strongly dissatisfied with the state of affairs in their country. Subsequently, aggrieved parties launched a military campaign to seize state-power to establish their rights. This led to an all-out military conflict where multiple groups got involved with the goal of securing their own interests.
Saudi Arabia's complete lack of concern for the loss of human lives caused due to their military offensives is appalling. The Western world has continued to supply arms to the Saudi regime. Religious extremist groups such as the AQAP and IS have continued their reign of terror in the Middle East. Houthis and other separatists also continue to fight ruthlessly for their political goals. The result has been immeasurable tragic suffering of innocent Yemeni men, women, and children. The world can only hope for a resolution to the brutal conflict in the near future so that peace returns to Yemen.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: [email protected]
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