The War In Yemen: Saudi-Coalition Forcing A Country Into Humanitarian Disaster

After the 2015 Houthi coup d’etat, which ousted President Abdrabbuh Hadi, a pro-government Saudi-led coalition has prompted a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The conflict exists between the Houthis – a predominantly Shia revolutionary faction –  and the loyalist supporters of Hadi, who have the backing of a Saudi alliance involving US arms and intelligence.

The unrecognized authority of the Houthis currently controls the Yemeni capital Sana’a. They opposed the government of President Hadi who during his tenure failed to combat the issue of mass unemployment, which rose to a high of 18.1% in 2015, according to Yemen’s central statistics office. The proposed move toward a federal model of governance also looked to fall heavily upon the Houthi’s Saada region, one of the poorest in Yemen, as the new territorial boundaries blocked a sea border.  Hadi’s decision to lift government fuel subsidies in 2014 also had massive knock-on effects for the nation. Fuel prices almost doubled, from 125 to 200 Yemeni Riyals per litre.  This would drastically raise prices in transport, food and in various other areas, and so became a key motivation behind the rebellion.

Accused by the Saudi-coalition of Iranian collusion, aptly the Houthi motto, “God Is Great, Death to America”, finds great similarity with the 1979 Iranian revolutionary slogan. This sentiment also lies at the centre of the Houthi’s opposition to Hadi’s government, which has received widespread support from the US, UK and France through military intelligence, arms shipments and political support. The widespread disillusionment with Hadi’s administration saw Sunnis, dogmatically opposed to the Houthis, support the group throughout the 2015 Coup.

Since Hadi was deposed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has called for his reinstatement. The Houthi’s aggressive expansion throughout Yemen has been halted and repelled, mostly as a result of the Saudi-coalition’s aerial bombardment campaign. The coalition involves a variety of Middle Eastern powers, including the UAE, Egypt and Kuwait, as part of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’.  Since the conflict’s eruption in 2015, the OHCHR has recorded over 13,000 civilian casualties, a large proportion of which were under the age of 18. Shortly after the conflict began, a UN resolution placed sanctions upon the Houthis, involving an arms embargo and calls for the surrendering of Sana’a. This did little to stem the violence.

The Saudi-coalition, in the two years of fighting, have come under great criticism for their involvement in causing the humanitarian crisis that Yemen is currently facing. The coalition’s naval blockade has had dire consequences for a country which imports 90% of its food requirements. Accordingly, UNICEF reported that approximately half a million children in the country are on the verge of starvation, with undernourishment and malnutrition endemic throughout the entire population.

The response of the coalition has been plainly atrocious. Alongside the famine-inducing blockade, a lengthy bombing campaign has resulted in a great number of civilian deaths. On October 8th, 2016, a Saudi airstrike in Sana’a killed over 140 civilians and was dubbed a war crime by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). A review led by the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), who have been heavily criticised since by Amnesty International for their impartiality, found that the incident was based on false information.

The HRW have condemned the international response, arguing that the US involvement in the conflict necessitates American investigation into the legality of the Saudi-coalition’s airstrikes. This has not happened. In the last year, the US sold over $20bn in arms to Saudi Arabia according to the HRW, including the contentious cluster bombs, which are massively inaccurate and are banned in many countries. In 2016, under the Obama administration, US cruise missiles were fired on Yemen, destroying three radar installations. This was the first direct American involvement in the conflict. President Trump’s administration recently signed off on a record $5bn arms deal with Bahrain, part of the Saudi-coalition, firmly cementing their level of involvement in the conflict. The continued aerial pummeling of Yemen is, according to the New York Times, causing foreign medical aid to flee the country. The aid group Doctors Without Borders have found their job untenable throughout the coalition’s airstrikes, further worsening the humanitarian disaster.

Furthermore, recent reports of a Cholera epidemic in Yemen reinforce the severity of the situation, with the World Health Organisation reporting over half a million cases, unsurprising as reportedly 14 million Yemenis have no access to clean water.  Since the conflict began, two ceasefire attempts have been made, both in 2016. The second collapsed after just 48 hours, indicating that the current process is failing. The response to the Houthi rebels has been catastrophically misjudged, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties and has left the majority of the nation displaced or in severe need of aid. All efforts by the international community to resolve the conflict have either worsened the situation or been ineffectual.

Any solution to brokering a long-term peace deal, must not involve the military strength of the Saudi-coalition. Collateral damage from the campaign is crippling a country whose infrastructure is already devastated, and the conflict is preventing the proper channels from bringing relief to the Yemeni population. The West’s penchant for arms sales to the Saudi-coalition is only enabling a greater number of civilian casualties, without bringing a foreseeable end. Accordingly, the Pakistani government vehemently refused to offer military support to the Saudis due to the firm belief that any ground-offensive would end in stalemate. To them, the only solution is diplomatic.

The Houthi’s use of child soldiers is a reality widely publicized by the UN and Amnesty International, and the continued military offensive can only increase such activity in a country where 1.8m children are out of school. An end to the fighting through military conquest is far too costly and the country is in dire need of aid with the cholera epidemic doubling in four months. The arms embargo placed upon the Houthis by the UN must be matched by a cease in the arms sales and support for Saudi Arabia’s disastrous military strategy. As Pakistan’s military analysts have noticed, only through negotiation toward a unified government, can the conflict end.

The conflict between the Houthis and the Yemeni government can be traced back to 2004 when the Houthis aimed to counteract what they considered to be governmental repression. This was due to their minority position as Shiite Muslims against a government strongly supported by Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Monarchy. Since then, the Houthis have consistently opposed both the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and his successor, President Hadi, fighting for jobs, government accountability, and an end to the collusion with the West. As aforementioned, this movement has gained favour among both Sunnis and Shiites, who have witnessed the complete failings in both the current and former administrations to combat al-Qaeda’s presence in the country, a failing economy and massive unemployment. Therefore the only way that a tenable peace is possible is through diplomacy and the formation of a government that responds to the great needs of the population. However, the issue is twofold in that the resultant humanitarian crisis from the conflict must be resolved before one can even attempt at rebuilding infrastructure in such chaos. To do so the coalition must end its costly aerial campaign and make way for international aid.

The Houthi position has never been one of annihilation. They do not hold the non-negotiable apocalypticism of ISIS, but have rebelled against a government who ignored their disposition. It should not be a case of one side winning through conquest, but of the formation of a unified government. Despite this, President Hadi, speaking this week in New York, stated that the “military solution is the more likely one for the Yemen crisis.” – a dark forecast for the people of Yemen.