Civil War, Starvation, And COVID-19: Yemen’s Fate Now Heavily Dependent On Its Local Proxies

UNICEF has reported the crisis in Yemen to be the worst humanitarian crisis across the globe, with over 80 percent of its population, or 24 million people, in need of humanitarian aid. Yemen’s situation is complex, leaving the country trapped by several external forces that stifle its ability to recover. Yemen continues to be pushed to its breaking point amidst its ongoing civil war, snowballing conflicts, and escalation of famine and disease while being coupled with COVID-19. Moreover, since the war’s very beginning, international media coverage on Yemen remains extremely limited.


According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in Yemen, 4 out of 5 people — about 24 million out of a total population about 29 million — need lifesaving aid. According to UNICEF, every 10 minutes a child dies in Yemen from preventable causes.


At the moment, Yemen faces the largest food security emergency in the world. Approximately 17 million people across Yemen experienced acute food insecurity in September 2017. Across the country, 2 million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition. Currently, it is estimated that over 85,000 children under five have perished due to starvation. COVID-19 continues to aggravate the country’s crisis, believing to have placed over five million additional children out of school. 


The country has been ravaged by a civil war since 2015. However, the origin of the conflict dates back to 1990, when South Yemen and North Yemen were unified under a single nation of what is known as Yemen today. Despite the union, both sides continued to clash with one another, inducing conflict between the government and anti-government groups, such as the Houthi rebels, to this day.


2011 would prove to be a pivotal year for the country. In light of the Arab Spring, Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, had been forced to transfer power to his delegate, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The action was followed by weeks of protests with the aim of ending the dictatorial leader’s 33-year rule over the nation.

Despite widespread anticipation of the stability the power change was intended to bring, President Hadi struggled to cope with critical issues such as militant attacks, food security, and corruption. Intensified fighting would emerge three years later, when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement seized control of the northern Saada province and its surrounding regions. Moreover, Hadi’s attempts to lead a transitional government would soon be rejected by the Houthis. Later on, the group would be successful in seizing control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, driving Hadi into exile overseas.


The conflict would intensify in 2015 after a Saudi-led coalition, composed of Saudi Arabia and eight majority Sunni Arab states, all backed by the U.S., U.K., and France intervened against the Houthis. The coalition had collectively authorized air strikes against the rebel group in an attempt to restore the Hadi regime. The civil war and coalition continue to tear into Yemen today, trapping the country into a disastrous circumstance. 


The coalition is believed to have imposed a blockade on the Houthi territory, forcing over half of Yemen’s population to the brink of starvation and contributing to outbreaks of deadly disease. In addition, the five-year long coalition has failed to achieve its stated goals, most notably its inability to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government.


With the war in Yemen now entering its sixth year, many political experts believe the country’s fate is now heavily dependent on its local proxies. On March 26th, Secretary-General António Guterres called for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Yemen. His call for a negotiated agreement was welcomed by major actors in the conflict, notably Saudi Arabia and the Houthis. Yet, a legitimate agreement and execution of the call appears to be impossible. Despite the imminent disintegration of the Saudi-led coalition, the likelihood of war ending in Yemen is grim. Several countries, including the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., continue to sell weapons to Yemen and fuel conflict in the country. Local groups indirectly supported by these foreign countries continue to prepare themselves for a war on their behalf.


 The act of using regional actors to initiate proxy wars is nothing new. However, if Yemen’s crisis deepens into a full blown proxy conflict, the country’s suffering will increase exponentially. For a country that the UN has classified as facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the amount of suffering estimated to happen is insurmountable.

2020 has proven to be a pivotal year for social justice. Widespread awareness of the Yemeni crisis, and donations to organizations such as UNICEF and Yemen Crisis Carrd are crucial. However, it is evident that major actors involved must take a stand to combat the continued absence of an agreement. The leaders involved in the Yemen War are waging lives, public health, as well as the future of younger generations. More than ever, it is clear international leadership is widely impotent and must be held accountable. Otherwise, the absence of accountability will serve to only fuel more human rights violations in the country.