Still surging from its beginning in 2015, the conflict in Yemen between the armed Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition shows no signs of ending. It has now become the worst manmade disaster in the world. The conflict has led to the death of approximately 230,000 Yemenis, including over 20,000 civilians. Around 24.1 million people now rely on humanitarian assistance for survival as a result of this conflict. That is almost the entire population of Australia. As both sides continue to interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid, displacement and starvation are continue to fester.
Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld once said that the UN “was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” Unfortunately, this hope has not been realized for the people of Yemen. The international community’s response to protect Yemeni civilians has been dominated by the Saudi-led military intervention, which has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis by blockading aid and resources. This interventionism has only compounded the destruction caused by airstrikes that have killed civilians and destroyed schools and hospitals.
Conflict will persist so long as parties believe violence is the best way of achieving their goals. Consequently, officials engaged in the peace process must understand what both sides are fighting for. Regional political leaders must take any steps possible to deter combative sides from attacking vital civilian infrastructure, such as ports, that give aid access to those in need. The commission of war crimes by all warring factions calls for a stronger commitment from the international community to immediately stop the conflict and help the people of Yemen rebuild their country.
The reality of warfare and conflict is that the consequences extend far beyond the parties involved – ordinary citizens, vulnerable groups, and children are likely to suffer most in a conflict zone. As much of Yemen’s oil and gas resources are based in northern regions of the country, raging conflict in the north has severely damaged Yemen’s export profits, causing the economy to suffer even further. The follow-on effect is that the Yemeni currency loses significant value and the cost of food goes up, making it increasingly difficult for ordinary civilians to feed their families and avoid starvation. These devastating effects have led to approximately 16 million people facing crisis levels of food insecurity in the past year.
With at least four million Yemeni people displaced around the country and abroad, other countries must be mindful of the reality faced by those in Yemen when assessing their immigration policies. This is especially true for countries selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and perpetuating the conflict, such as Australia and the United States. Greater awareness of the quality of life in conflict-affected areas might make us just a fraction more compassionate when we hear about asylum seekers coming to find safety and start a new life for their families. As efforts towards peace continue to falter, the rest of the world has a responsibility to protect innocent Yemeni civilians caught in the middle of a war they did not want.
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