Six years on: the global scandal of Yemen’s ongoing devastation

Child in Yemen looking out over rubble

Western ally Saudi Arabia led a war coalition into Yemen in 2015. The conflict arising from this aggression has reportedly killed around 233,000 people so far. And the UN has consistently called this “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Thanks in part to a turbulent post-colonial period of dictatorships, many Yemeni people already lived in poverty before 2015. But their suffering has worsened significantly in the last six years.

The shameful statistics

Around four million people have had to leave their homes due to the conflict. And according to Relief Web, two thirds of the population are in need of support. The country, it stresses, “is the largest food security crisis in the world, both in scale and severity, with an estimated 16.2 million people facing severe food insecurity (more than half of the population)”. And due in part to the bombing of public infrastructure, over 18,000 civilians have died.

Millions of people are now reportedly on the verge of famine. As the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) explained this week, meanwhile:

another 672,000 people could be displaced by the end of 2021 if current levels of violence continue, according to United Nations predictions.

It also said “Yemen is sliding back into full-scale war”, adding that:

834 civilian houses have already been hit by armed violence so far this year.

Regarding life for children in Yemen, UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in December 2020:

[Yemen] is perhaps the most dangerous place on earth to be a child. One child dies every 10 minutes from a preventable disease. Two million are out of school. And thousands have been killed, maimed or recruited since 2015.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, Yemen is the country “where the needs of women and girls in humanitarian emergencies are greatest”.

A brutal failure of a conflict

Saudi Arabia entered Yemen to try and defeat Houthi rebels who it said had links to regional foe Iran and who’d overthrown the Saudi ally who’d been in power. But it failed, only strengthening the Houthis and pushing it closer to Iran. The reunification of the country is looking unlikely too, the Brookings Institution insists, because “there are now multiple Yemens”.

Saudi Arabia has failed to achieve anything other than numerous allegations of war crimes. So it’s offering unattractive peace talks again – which the Houthis are unlikely to accept. And it’s easing its devastating blockade in an attempt to get a deal.

US president Joe Biden, meanwhile, is limiting support for his ally’s war in Yemen. And the Houthis are no longer on Washington’s terror list, which helps with the provision of aid to areas under their control. But Biden has faced accusations of not putting any meaningful pressure on Saudi Arabia to change course.

At the same time, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has expressed that he would be happy to send British forces to Yemen if conditions changed.

As NRC secretary general Jan Egeland says, there are many world leaders who “continue to fan the flames of this war”. Indeed, until Saudi Arabia comes under real pressure from its allies, Yemen’s horrific suffering is likely to continue. And the fact that this conflict is now moving into its seventh year is a stain on the international community.

Main article image via Felton Davis/creative commons (no changes made)