A multilayered humanitarian crisis has reached its tipping point in Yemen. The civil war between the internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebel forces has been ongoing since 2015. It has since devolved into a full blown proxy war between the Saudi led coalition and the Houthis, which are said to be backed by Iran. The issue at hand goes beyond the obvious problem of foreign powers intervening in a domestic conflict, not to offer a solution but to perpetuate the violence in pursuit of their own agenda. Life in Yemen is that of great hardship, with frequent air strikes, a cholera outbreak, famine, lack of access to potable water, all exacerbated by an entirely collapsed health system.
The above have caused widespread chaos and a humanitarian crisis that has been described as “the worst in 100 years” by the UN. Tens of children are thought to be dying every single day from starvation. It is unknown how many people have perished from fighting an airstrikes. At the same time, the health and water sanitation system has been reduced to ruble, with devastating consequences. There have been approximately two million cases of cholera, in an outbreak that has lasted more than three years. On top of this, food security is minimal, with the vast majority of the population relying on aid from the World Food Programme and millions, particularly children, being severely malnourished.
Efforts for famine relief have repeatedly failed, with the effects being irreversible. An entire generation of Yemeni children has been stigmatised by the war and subsequent humanitarian emergencies. The effects in the underage population are most noticeable. Yemeni children and infants are dying from malnutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Those that survive, are severely hindered from growing up without food security. Education and childcare services are collapsing in ruble, either from abandonment or air strikes.
For those that have managed to evade the destruction caused by the violence and lack of healthcare, they are being faced with endless shortages due to the blockade, a relatively high unemployment rate of 13 per cent, as well rising illiteracy in young people, coupled with decaying infrastructure and education. The data, gathered from sources such as the UN, UNICEF and World Bank, paint a particularly bleak picture of the situation in Yemen.
The global response to this, unfortunately, is the opposite of ideal. The international coalition, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, is the main source of chaos and destruction. Despite the fact that the conflict is between two domestic forces, the unmatched power and brutality of the coalition, often highlighted with the bombings of schools and hospitals, is certainly the defining factor in such outcomes. Saudi Arabia, as well as several members of the coalition have been accused of war crimes by the Human Rights Watch. Domestically, neither side has shown any sign of faltering, with both the Hadi and Houthi sides persisting in the quest for absolute control of the territory against the other, as well as the various terrorist groups that operate in the area.
The topic of foreign intervention is a highly complex issue, where neither the option to not become involved or to suppress the conflict are ethical or legitimate. As it has been shown in similar cases in recent years, from Myanmar to D.R. Congo and from Syria to Libya, reality is often unforgiving no matter the course of action any player decides to take. The solution, therefore, can certainly not be black or white. If we were to suppose that the coalition’s intervention was strictly for moral purposes, it would still be highly contested whether it is a good way to go about an attempt such as this one.
In the meantime, there ought to be a distinction between intervening via a peacekeeping force or by maintaining crucial infrastructure and by doing so militarily. Even though the topic of sovereignty arises from both, but even more so when it comes in the form of a foreign force. The agenda of those doing the latter must also be examined. In this case, the coalition’s need to control oil reserves in the region, establish dominance, and develop and sell weapons, it is apparent that there are ambitions extending beyond peace and prosperity. The different factions perpetuating violence and destruction have provided the groundwork for further chaos and devastation. The deviating influences in the region, along with the relentless competition to maintain their grip on the people and resources, result in continuously escalating tensions.
This situation cannot be solved or even limited through the addition of a foreign player. The geopolitical background of the conflict will simply now make this impossible, except perhaps through complete and total annihilation of both sides. Obviously, this would be the nuclear solution and only serve as a band aid. Realistically though, no method that creates violence and war will possibly stop an ongoing conflict. Both the Houthis and the Hadis are backed by the global demand for oil, as well as governments and organisations that align with their goals.
In the current climate, the probability of the conflict burning itself out is highly improbable. At the same time, the human cost will continue to increase, plunging more and more people into a bottomless pit of dehumanisation. To stop the insurgency, one would need to reach a compromising solution with all sides. This is a relatively reasonable and achievable proposal, considering that Saudi Arabia has access to such resources. A complete overhaul of the policy system, with provisions for a ceasefire and a multilateral solution that would divide the power and territory equitably.
At this stage of humanitarian devastation, the priority is to halt atrocities and preserve as much of the remaining infrastructure as possible. Establishing a democratic, or any other publicly acceptable regime for that matter, should be a long term goal. Once the transitional period between large scale conflict to internal stability, the political, legislative and judiciary systems can be revised to match those of other states in similar contexts. In this manner, the country and its people could begin to recover from the conflict, instead of bracing for those to come.
With effective communication and a strong mediating power, the root of the conflict can be sorted. Obviously, there would need to be international monitoring to ensure that there are no foreign and domestic powers taking advantage of the situation to exploit people or resources. This again can be achieved, simply by transitioning the international coalition from a practically invading force to a peacekeeping and supporting group. Emphasis in such a situation should be given to education and health services, including sanitation infrastructure and access to water. Next, transportation should be improved for supplies to be able to reach remote areas. Doing so would also create jobs. Through steps such as these or similar, the bulk of the causes of the humanitarian crisis would be eliminated. Of course, systematic changes need to be made to ensure that this is a lasting improvement.
When the Yemen humanitarian crisis is examined, it becomes apparent that it cannot have an easy solution, not because the circumstances would not allow for it but due to the lack of willingness of specific players. Through assertive mediation, as opposed to the current response, it is certainly possible for Yemen to return to a more peaceful state.