We often confuse the difference between a war and a crisis. What is a war? It is a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country, while on the other hand, a crisis is a time of intense difficulty and danger. And both of these combined are what is happening in Yemen right now. For those of you who are not aware of what or where Yemen is, Yemen is a country in the Middle East, to the east of North Africa and south of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. The country as we know it today was formed in 1990 when south Yemen and North Yemen – which believe the country should be run in different ways – joined together after many years of fighting. However, since then, the fighting has not stopped and there is now another civil war taking place, which has made a life for those living in the country extremely tough.
Despite joining together in 1990, the north and south of the country still disagreed with each other. Fighting between the government and anti-government fighters (the Houthi rebels) continued, the situation reached a peak in 2011 when protests led to the president at the time, Ali Abdallah Saleh, resigning and his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, taking over. However, the fighting still didn’t stop, as Mr. Hadi struggled to keep everyone in the country happy.
The rebels took advantage of the new president’s weakness and began to take control of areas. Many people supported them because they weren’t happy with their country’s leader. At the end of 2014, the country descended into civil war, when the rebels – backed by Iran – took over the capital city of Yemen, Sanaa. President Hadi fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia, which leads a group of nine countries who joined together in support of the Yemeni government. A group of countries joined together like this is called a ‘coalition’.
At the start of the war, Saudi officials forecast that it would last only a few weeks. But four years of military stalemate have followed. Coalition ground troops landed in the southern port city of Aden in August 2015 and helped drive the Houthis and their allies out of much of the south over the next few months. Mr. Hadi’s government has established a temporary home in Aden, but it struggles to provide basic services and security and the president continues to be based in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis meanwhile have not been dislodged from Sanaa and north-western Yemen. They have been able to maintain a siege of the third city of Taiz and to launch regular ballistic missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s eastern oil fields of Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by air, disrupting nearly half the kingdom’s oil production – representing around 5% of global oil output. The Houthis claimed responsibility but Saudi Arabia and the US accused Iran of carrying out the attacks.
The launch of a ballistic missile towards Riyadh in November 2017 prompted the Saudi-led coalition to tighten its blockade of Yemen. It said it wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons to the rebels by Iran – an accusation Tehran denied – but the restrictions led to substantial increases in the prices of food and fuel, helping to push more people into food insecurity. The alliance between the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh also collapsed in November 2017 following deadly clashes over control of Sanaa’s biggest mosque. Houthi fighters launched an operation to take full control of the capital and Saleh was killed.
In June 2018, the coalition attempted to break the deadlock on the battlefield by launching a major offensive to capture from the Houthis the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, whose port is the principal lifeline for almost two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The UN warned that the port’s destruction would constitute a “tipping point” beyond which it was going to be impossible to avert massive loss of life due to famine. After six months of fighting, the warring parties agreed to a ceasefire at talks in Sweden. The Stockholm agreement required them to redeploy their forces from Hudaydah, establish a prisoner exchange mechanism, and address the situation in Taiz.
In July 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key ally of Saudi Arabia in the war, facing international criticism of its conduct, announced a withdrawal of its forces from Yemen. In August, fighting erupted in the south between Saudi-backed government forces and an ostensibly allied southern separatist movement supported by the UAE, the Southern Transitional Council (STC). While hundreds of prisoners have since been released, the full redeployment of forces from Hudaydah has not yet taken place, raising fears that the Stockholm agreement will collapse and that the battle for Hudaydah will resume.
Forces loyal to the STC, which accused Mr. Hadi of mismanagement and links to Islamists, seized control of Aden and refused to allow the cabinet to return until Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal that November. The UN hoped the agreement would clear the way for a political settlement to end the civil war, but in January 2020 there was a sudden escalation in hostilities between the Houthis and coalition-led forces, with fighting on several front lines, missile strikes, and air raids. In April 2020 the STC declared self-rule in Aden, breaking a peace deal signed with the internationally recognized government, saying it would govern the port city and southern provinces. Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire the same month due to coronavirus pandemic but the Houthis rejected it, demanding the lifting of air and sea blockades in Sanaa and Hudaydah.
Militants from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local affiliate of the rival Islamic State group (IS) have taken advantage of the chaos by seizing territory in the south and carrying out deadly attacks, notably in Aden.
The fight has been going on for over six years now, and at the moment many atrocities have been faced by the people living in the country. The fighting has had a devastating impact on ordinary people who live in Yemen. Restricted deliveries of food and fuel, and roads and buildings are being destroyed, which has led to millions of people not having the essentials that they need to live. The price of food has become incredibly expensive and many people cannot afford to eat. People also don’t have access to the healthcare they need. In 2017, there was an outbreak of cholera – a dangerous disease found in dirty water – in Yemen, due to poor sanitation and people not being able to get the treatment they needed, which killed many people. The Covid-19 pandemic is the latest threat to people living there. More than three and a half million people have also been forced to flee from their homes, according to the UN. But with airports closed and borders blocked, many are unable to leave the country, despite the problems. Many Charities are working hard to try to help those affected by the crisis. A UK organization called the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which represents 13 aid charities, launched a big appeal asking for people to donate money to help make sure that people in Yemen have what they need to live.
The British Red Cross – a charity represented by the DEC – said: “The ongoing conflict in Yemen has devastated millions of people’s lives.” Another charity, Save the Children says it is “horrified” by the number of children who have died as a result of extreme hunger, adding: “For every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death and it’s entirely preventable.” Unicef also launched a big new emergency appeal earlier in 2020 to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to help people. For now, the conflict continues and life for millions of people in Yemen continues to be a fight for survival.
The UN had verified the deaths of at least 7,700 civilians by March 2020, with most caused by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. Monitoring groups believe the death toll is far higher. The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) said in October 2019 that it had recorded more than 100,000 fatalities, including 12,000 civilians killed indirect attacks. More than 23,000 fatalities were reported in 2019, making it the second most lethal year of the war so far. An estimated 2 million children are acutely malnourished, including almost 360,000 children under five years old who are struggling to survive. With only half of the country’s 3,500 medical facilities fully functioning, almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare. And almost 18 million do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.
Consequently, medics have struggled to deal with the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded, which has resulted in more than 2.2 million suspected cases and 3,895 related deaths since October 2016. The United Nations has warned that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.” The UN also issued a desperate plea for financial aid saying its operations in the country, including vital health services, were severely underfunded. The war has displaced more than 3.65 million from their homes.
Why should the war matter to the rest of the countries? What happens in Yemen can greatly exacerbate regional tensions. It also worries the West because of the threat of attacks – such as from al-Qaeda or IS affiliates – emanating from the country as it becomes more unstable. The conflict is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Gulf Arab states – backers of President Hadi – have accused Iran of bolstering the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this. Yemen is also strategically important because it sits on a strait linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments pass.
BBC News. 2021. Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423>
Bbc.co.uk. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/38317367>