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The War in Yemen: What You Need to Know About the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World

Currently in its fourth year, the war in Yemen is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and there needs to be more awareness of it. According to the United Nations, 22.2 million people (which accounts for three-quarters of the population) are currently in need of humanitarian or protection assistance.

Why is there a war in Yemen?

The war in Yemen began in 2011, when former longtime authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh handed over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi under a US-backed deal after an Arab Spring. The president struggled to bring stability to the country and “dealed with various problems including militant attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.” His decision to cut fuel subsidies in 2014 sparked protests, in which thousands were forced onto the capital’s streets. The Houthi movement took this as an opportunity to utilize the agitation and march south from their stronghold of Saada province to Sanaa and encircled the presidential palace. Powerless, Hadi fled and sought sanctuary in Saudi-Arabia.

In 2015, the conflict worsened when 9 Arab states (including Saudi Arabia) began US, France, and UK-backed airstrikes against the Houthis. They declared wanting to restore Hadi’s presidency. The Saudi-led coalition feared that the Houthi’s power would give their rival regional power and Shia-majority state, Iran, influence over Yemen. Saudi Arabia also believes Iran is backing the Houthis with weapons and logistical support, which Iran denies. Both sides have been infighting.

In July of 2016, the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh announced their intention of forming a “political council” to govern Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. However, Saleh broke with the Houthis in December 2017 and called for his followers to take arms against them — resulting in his death two days later, with his forces defeated. On the anti-Houthi side, militias include separatists seeking independence for south Yemen and factions who oppose the idea.

What have been the consequences of the conflict?

All sides of the conflict are reported to have violated humanitarian rights and international humanitarian laws. The war has had severe impacts on civilians, to say the least; the UN has estimated the casualty toll to have exceeded 15,000 (killed or injured). A cholera outbreak has affected thousands (half of all health facilities are damaged or unable to function), eight million are at risk of famine, millions do not have access to clean water, and a total of 22.2 million (which is about 75% of the country) are in need of protective or humanitarian assistance).

Many of the victims are children: according to the Houthi-controlled Health Ministry in Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed 30 people (22 of whom were children) in a rebel-held zone in northwestern Yemen two weeks ago. Last month, another Saudi-led airstrike attacked a school bus in Yemen, killing 51 people (including 40 children). About 25% of school-aged children are out of school, and 2,500 schools have been damaged or are unable to run. 

And yet none of this is discussed in the news. So often are humanitarian crises like this looked over. We need to talk about it. We need to take action.

Photo: News Click via Reuters

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