Yemen: An Unfolding Tragedy
5 brutal years of civil war have created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and pushed what was already the poorest nation in the Arab world into freefall. This man-made tragedy has left 80% of the population in need of humanitarian aid, 7.4 million suffering severe malnutrition, of whom 2 million are children, and 3.65 million displaced. And now coronavirus (COVID-19) has arrived, adding another layer of complications to what a fragile situation was already.
The Unfulfilled Promise
The roots of the current crisis can be traced back to 2011, and Yemen’s version of the Arab Spring, where protests about corruption and economic hardships led to demands for political change. But the promise of transformation was to remain unfulfilled.
Concerned about instability in their backyards, Yemen’s neighbouring countries use US support, and their own financial wealth, to persuade President Saleh to step down in favour of Abderabbu Mansour al-Hadi, the Vice President. The transitional arrangement, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative, saw President Saleh receive immunity from prosecution, and Hadi run unopposed for transitional President.
Intitially elected for 2 years, Hadi’s term in office would be extended for an extra year after the UN facilitated Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (NDC) reached its conclusion.
The NDC included participation from Yemen’s diverse political groups - including representatives from the south, the Houthi political party - named Ansar Allah - and civil society. The conference concluded in 2014, and promised multi-party elections, 50-50 representation between north and south in a legislative body, guaranteed freedom of religion, and a non-sectarian state. However, armed summer clashes between Houthi and Sunni supporters complicate matters, a situation exacerbated by widespread popular protests against fuel price rises and the Hadi government, in September.
This unrest presented the Houthis with an opportunity to move militarily. Actions which broke the NDC agreement. Allying themselves with their old enemy, former President Saleh, they swiftly triumphed, and forced Hadi and his government to flee to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Houthis in control of the state.
However, by March 2015 the Saudi Arabian led military intervention had begun, which aimed at reversing the Houthi military conquest of Yemen and restoring Hadi’s government. Doing so would secure Saudi Arabia’s southern border from Houthi attacks, and prevent interference on the Arabian Peninsula from Iran.
The military intervention was followed by the UN Security Council adopting Resolution 2216 in April 2015, which endorsed the goals of bringing about Houthi military surrender and a return to UN-facilitated political talks.
The Evolution of a Tragedy
Five years later and the country remains at an impasse, with the civil war now consisting of a variety of distinct but overlapping elements – Houthis versus the Saudi-led coalition, a southern independence insurgency against Houthi-controlled Sana’s Hadi’s government, a Saudi / Iranian proxy war, an anti-terrorism campaign, and Houthis against Yemeni Sunnis.
And whilst there are no winners, there are many losers. Almost all of whom are the ordinary men, women and children who make up the Yemeni population. The situation in the country remains unstable with much of the infrastructure destroyed, state employees not paid for months, and 50% of medical facilities out of action. This makes life extremely difficult for any institutional organisation, such as the United Nations, or individual charities working in Yemen, to safely carry out projects aimed at easing the suffering of the population.
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