According to UNICEF, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen. A humanitarian crisis on a scale incomparable to anything seen in recent years has taken hold of the country. Since 2014, Yemen has been plagued by a civil war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran, and a 9-country coalition led by Saudi Arabia. This proxy war between two of the region’s biggest power brokers has brought about widespread humanitarian devastation. With the capital Sana’a and much of the north of Yemen under Houthi control, Saudi Arabian air strikes have flattened towns and villages of all sizes. Around 7 million people now rely and depend on aid as their sole source of food every month, with this figure expected to reach 10 million by the New Year. The situation was significantly worsened when, in response to a rocket fired from the country which landed close to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia placed a blockade on imports to Yemen. Consequentially, the supply of humanitarian aid from the international community was almost entirely cut off. This devastating civil war shows no signs of abating. The recent killing of Yemen’s former long-term President Ali Abdullah Saleh will only catalyse animosity. Saleh, who had made moves towards organising a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, was killed by the Houthi rebels who formerly supported him. Saudi Arabia blames Iran for his murder as tensions continue to rise.
The humanitarian crisis on the ground in Yemen continues to worsen. John Mooij, who is working for the charity ‘CARE,’ reinforced the scale of the crisis. With 10 million civilians set to be reliant on food aid by 2018, Mooij noted that “there are no words to describe what will happen” if the demand for aid is not met. On top of a shortage of food, the world’s biggest cholera outbreak has also struck the country. 1 million people could be affected by the disease by the end of this year, with the death toll from the disease alone surpassing thousands. Furthermore, while the blockade was partially lifted by Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, Mooij pointed out that a block on commercial food imports remains in place. The incoming humanitarian supplies “cannot compensate for the commercial supplies,” with Mooij also stating that if the blockade is not lifted totally then “[Yemen] will be close to further disaster.” The UN has called for a ceasefire in the region and a protection of civilians from the conflict. A spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General called for an end to “deliberate attacks against civilians and medical infrastructure,” given that these are “a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”
With the conflict in the Yemen unlikely to cease soon, the outlook for improving humanitarian conditions is bleak. The ongoing violent conflict is the sole reason for the impoverishment of millions of men, women and children. Only with the arrival of peace will Yemen begin to be able to sustain itself once more through domestic agriculture and commercial food imports. In the meantime, it is up to the international community to respond to this crisis in a manner which befits its scale and urgency. This is a crisis on a scale unseen for decades. Subsequently, the international community needs to ensure that the cost of widespread famine and disease among affected civilians is minimal. This firstly can begin to be achieved through the consistent provision of humanitarian aid over coming months, including both supplies of food and medicine to affected regions.
International condemnation should also be placed on Saudi Arabia, which has hampered aid efforts in recent months. Their current partial blockade over Yemen imports is preventing much-needed food and supplies reach huge numbers of suffering civilians. Britain, in particular, could play a role in sending a message to the Saudis by halting its supply of arms to the Middle Eastern nation. The arms and munitions supplied by the British government to Saudi Arabia have been used in Yemen, and have had a role to play in the devastation caused there. Through international cooperation and the introduction of sanctions upon Saudi Arabia and Iran, steps may be taken towards bringing about a cessation of hostilities in Yemen. In one way or another, the international community needs to stand up and take action.