Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen

By Bailey Marshall

What has led to one of the largest humanitarian crises in world history? Explaining Yemen.

Yemen is the second largest sovereign Arab state in the world. The Republic of Yemen, as it is officially known, is directly south of Saudi Arabia and rests against the nation of Oman that is located to the east of it.

Yemen has been involved in a brutal Civil War since 2011 and the United Nations (UN) has acknowledged that the republic is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. As a result of the raging Civil War, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) claims that “an alarming 22.2 million people in Yemen need some kind of humanitarian or protection assistance, an estimated 17.8 million are food insecure- 8.4 million people are severely food insecure and at risk of starvation- 16 million lack access to safe water and sanitation, and 16.4 million lack access to adequate healthcare.” Bottom line, the people of Yemen need help.  

The roots of the humanitarian crisis date back to the first Arab Spring uprisings that swept through the Middle East in 2010. The Arab Spring was a pro-democracy protest that middle eastern countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen took part in to rise up against oppressive living conditions as a result of intolerable government reign. The Yemeni people participated in street riots that often led to violent demonstrations in attempts to overthrow their government and current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Arab Spring uprisings spread like wildfire. Soon, middle eastern governments had to respond.

In 2011, the citizens of Yemen forced their authoritarian president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to exchange power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Still licking his wounds, Selah reportedely formed an alliance with Houthi rebels, convincing them to uprise against his successor. Two years after Selah was removed from power, Houthi rebels stormed Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, taking control of the capital and much of Northern Yemen.

This newfound alliance between the past Yemen president and Houthi rebels did not make Saudi Arabia happy. Accusing Iran of partnering with Saleh and Houthi rebels to take over the Yemeni government, Saudi Arabia launched an airstrike to target Houthi rebels’ resources in Yemen and restore order to Mr. Hadi’s transitioning government.

After the initial Saudi Arabian airstrike in 2015, three years of fierce civil war followed. The coalition, (nations that aimed to re-establish power to President Hadi) including the U.S., U.K., and France, provided informational and technological support to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations that were fighting against Houthi rebels. Coalition troops landed in Aden in 2015 in order to take back an economic asset to Saudi Arabia and its allies for importing and exporting. The port in Aden was maintained by the coalition but was rendered practically useless because President Hadi was still in exile.

Meanwhile, the airstrikes across Yemen by Saudi Arabia and supporting forces continued to devastate the Yemeni people. There has been 6,800 civilian deaths and 10,700 civilian injuries reported since the war began in 2015, mostly as a result of the Saudi Arabian airstrikes. Additionally, 20 million Yemeni are considered by the UN food insecure and there have been thousands more civilian deaths relating to malnutrition and preventable disease.

Even though Selah was not officially the president of Yemen in the midst of civil war, many Yemeni still looked to him in the time of crisis and trusted his allegiance. In 2017, Selah stopped supporting Houthi rebels and sided with Saudi Arabia in attempts to restore normalcy to his war torn nation. Soon thereafter, Selah was killed by his once allies, the Houthis. After Selah’s death, the war continued to rage and famine began to take a larger toll on the Yemeni people.

What is the United States’ roll in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis? The United States has been a part of UN efforts to provide humanitarian care and OCHA recognizes that: “given the rapidly deteriorating situation, Yemen was declared a System Wide IASC Level 3 Emergency (L3) in July 2015. This designation was reviewed in February 2017 and further extended.” Since the war in Yemen was declared a Level 3 emergency in 2015, efforts of relief have been provided by the UN’s supporting nations. Additionally, USAID for the American people proclaims that “today, the United States announced nearly $87 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the people of Yemen… this funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Yemen response since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017 to more than $854 million.”

Questions still remain. Is the UN doing enough to provide relief to Yemen? Furthermore, is the U.S. doing their part in providing relief efforts? And lastly, should the UN be taking more military action to stop the war in Yemen?