Sparked by the 2011 Arab Spring Movements in Tunisia and Egypt, Yemen’s Civil War is the result of political instability exacerbated by the ideological divisions between the Houthi movement (Shi’i Muslims) and the Yemeni government (Sunni Muslims). The Yemeni Civil War began in late 2014 when the Houthi faction seized the presidential palace under the Hadi administration and took control of Sana’a – the capital of Yemen.
After fleeing abroad and resigning in 2015, President Hadi cultivated his weakening power by unifying Saudi Arabia with other Sunni Arab states into a coalition that believed the force of the Houthi movement was backed by Iran. The Sunni coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis resulting in an almost decade-long retaliation. The waterfront has amassed 100,000 civilian casualties since 2015 (Council on Foreign Relations), displacing millions of residents in the country, and now forcing 80% of the Yemeni population to seek humanitarian aid (UNHCR). With malnutrition rates gaining a record high, combined with the country’s declining economy and worsening inflation, the denial of humanitarian access is becoming more evident on the international stage.
According to a January 2021 report by the Panel of Experts of Yemen to the President of the United Nations Security Council, the Government of Yemen and Houthi insurrectionists misappropriated at least 1.8 billion in 2019 to support warfront causes instead of supplying civilians with economic support and humanitarian aid. The Houthi movement, which is acting within the authority of the Government of Yemen has been “collecting taxes and other State revenue, a large portion used to fund their war effort” that was initially meant to “pay salaries and provide basic services to citizens” (UNSC report).
Similarly, the civil institutions of Yemen have been accused of money laundering and corruption activities that have delayed food supply accessibility to Yemeni civilians. The accused money laundering scheme by the Government of Yemen in coordination with the Central Bank of Yemen was aimed to “divert funds from the Saudi deposit, in which $423 million of public money was illegally transferred to traders” (UNSC report). The involvement of the Central Bank of Yemen may indicate a greater issue of government corruption at play in this political conflict. In response to the report, the Central Bank of Yemen has denied the claims and said, the “operations it carried out were transparent and compliant with international banking and trade requirements” and that officials “may have relied on allegations and misleading information from some anti-Yemen parties that target the Central Bank of Yemen and its presence and activities in Aden” (Reuters).
The Houthis have also not responded to the claims by the United Nations, but the faction has a long history of diverting food and resources from Yemen’s civilians. These gross misappropriations of public funds by both parties are intensifying the famine in Yemen and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of the country’s civilians. Not only have these incidents led to international condemnation of the Houthi faction and the Government of Yemen, but also a mistrust of government and financial institutions that could cause a further decline in Yemen’s economy.
The persisting concerns of misappropriation and diverting humanitarian aid are worsening Yemen’s famine. The destructive conflict between Yemen’s government and the Houthi faction has blocked and delayed access to humanitarian aid to support each party’s Civil War efforts. In Houthi-controlled areas such as Sana’a, humanitarian assistance has been distributed to those who are ineligible for the aid or even re-sold for individual gain in the capital’s markets. Many humanitarian workers of the United Nations have also been detained and harassed by Houthis while distributing aid in the region.
Another obstructed area in Aden which is controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, the newly secessionist sect of the Government of Yemen, through their slow-moving bureaucratic agreements in obtaining humanitarian aid and accusations of corruption in withholding food until it expired (UNSC report). These issues play a large role in magnifying Yemen’s famine, and although the United Nations have highlighted these concerns in the region, it is still crucial that humanitarian aid and service be given to those civilians that require it. Last year, The United Nations World Food Programme reduced the amount of aid given to the country due to these setbacks after committing to secure the necessary food and financial resources for Yemeni civilians.
The complexities of the Yemen Civil War and its impact on civilians undergoing these obstructions to aid indicate that humanitarian concerns should be prioritized when political tensions are resolved in the country. Peace talks between the Southern Transitional Council and the leaders of the Houthi faction need to be structured around the impacts of continuous fighting, the mass displacement that is following Yemeni civilians, violations of human rights, as well as the issue of economic profiteering and corruption throughout the region. Peace agreements such as the Stockholm Agreement, the Riyadh Agreement, and the joint declaration of peace between the Houthis and the Government of Yemen in April 2020 are narrow in scope and do not incorporate all of the key actors in this conflict. Creating a broader agreement that incorporates “southern and west coast entities” (UNSC report) is crucial to establishing an inclusive peace agreement in Yemen. There should also be a prioritization of humanitarian aid and services to civilians that confront instances of economic profiteering and outline the legal ramifications of blocking, obstructing, and offering the re-sale of essential aid.
The United Nations is another important component in the management of Yemen’s famine, although there are many setbacks and delays to administering aid to civilians in the war-torn country, the organization must be vigilant in monitoring and continue to distribute sufficient quantities of aid. Now is not the time to cutback humanitarian aid to the people who need it the most. With Yemen’s heightening political tensions, it is time to be strategic in distribution.
One possible solution that could resolve this issue is for the United Nations to expand employment to local Yemeni civilians, who are currently on the ground in the country. A certain amount of trust would have to be established between the United Nations and locals, as long as the selected Yemen civilians do not have a background in the political in-fighting, these would be the necessary civilians to assist in deploying aid. Not only do Yemeni civilians intrinsically have local knowledge and a better understanding of the spatial geography, but they would also have a more civil relationship with fighters in Houthi-controlled and government-controlled areas in Yemen.
In a country with an almost 13% unemployment rate in 2020, employing local Yemeni civilians to monitor and regulate food distribution in the country would mitigate the severity of the famine internally. An additional strategy the United Nations should implement is deploying a special unit specifically knowledgeable insecure transport for humanitarian aid. This form of assistance is required to reduce occurrences of blockages and diminish the harassment of humanitarian workers, specifically in Houthi dominant areas. It may also be beneficial to employ Yemeni civilians into positions such as these because they are aware of Houthi routes and may know the necessary alternative routes to lessen instances of obstruction. In conclusion, employing local Yemeni civilians to the United Nations may be the first step in cultivating solutions for the famine in Yemen.
This solution also provides an opportunity for local civilians to hinder political tensions in the country and support the declining Yemeni economy. The United Nations needs to set precedence on the thousands of lives that are being lost in Yemen’s famine and seek precautions and alternatives in their strategies to distribute humanitarian aid. As Yemeni civilians encounter struggles to their political stability, food security, and even health due to COVID-19, the Yemeni population will prove their resilience each time.