Instability within a country can damage local populations in a myriad of ways. Systems like government service provision or food distribution which function normally in peacetime are disrupted and with these interruptions come dire consequences. This is exactly true in regards to the conflict in Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen is multidimensional in the sense that there are several key actors involved in the conflict, all of which have different end goals. The conflict began in March of 2015 when a coalition led by Saudi Arabia became involved in an internal struggle between President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s forces and forces loyal to the Houthi rebel movement. From sources provided by Al Jazeera News, the coalition includes the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Sudan, which all provide military support. The coalition is also supported logistically by the US, UK, France, Turkey, Morocco, and Belgium, but is opposed by Iran, China, and Russia.
According to the BBC, the conflict in Yemen can be traced back to the faulty transition from authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh to President Hadi in 2011 during the Arab Spring period. Many in Yemen were dissatisfied with President Hadi’s transition into power which generated support for the Houthis when they mobilized against him in September of 2014. President Hadi fled the country in late 2014, after which conflict between former President Saleh’s forces and the Houthis has escalated. This escalation concerns Saudi Arabia due to the Houthi movement’s religious ties. The Houthi movement has strong religious ties to a branch of Islam called Zaidi Shias. This characteristic of the Houthi movement remains important to the ongoing conflict as Saudi Arabia, leader of the coalition involved in the Yemen conflict, is fiercely Sunni. Even Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia are severely discriminated against, and Saudi Arabia’s desire to limit the power of the Houthi movement is linked to a longstanding religious conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Saudi Arabia was, and is, concerned that the Houthis are being backed by a Shia regional power in Iran, which would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia.
While Yemen’s situation has both national and international dimensions, the body count and severe food insecurity from direct and indirect conflict continue to rise. The death toll directly attributed to the conflict has risen over 7,600 as of March 28th, and are largely civilian. Indirect deaths are mostly attributed to the naval blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on the port of Aden, but also results from airstrikes on the port of Hudaydah. The International Committee of the Red Cross has given up trying to send food and other necessities through the port of Aden due to airstrike damage. The UN continues to urge the parties involved to keep Hudaydah open as the only functioning port that is able to receive supplies. Yemen’s food systems were already stressed during President Hadi’s time in the country and according to the BBC, the country imported 90% of its staple food. According to the executive director of the World Food Programme, Yemen only has approximately three months of stored food.
On April 25th, a pledging conference was being held in Geneva to raise funds for Yemen’s current food, and humanitarian crisis. The World Food Programme states that Yemen is on the brink of famine as approximately seven million people face severe food insecurity and need food aid immediately according to the UN. With the Syrian conflict occupying the forefront of media coverage, Yemen’s situation is easily overshadowed. According to individuals like Caroline Anning from Save the Children, Yemen is becoming a “forgotten conflict” without proper emphasis. Lack of media coverage has resulted in international aid shortfalls where only 15% of around $2.1 billion has been funded to address the massive humanitarian aid need in Yemen. In addition to food insecurity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 19 million people are without access to safe drinking water or sanitation. This has led to a concomitant rise in related deaths. According to the BBC, there have been over 22,181 suspected cases of cholera and 103 deaths linked to the disease.
The urgency of Yemen’s situation is undeniable. Civilian deaths, particularly as they relate to food and water access, are entirely preventable. In terms of funding, the largest issue is that only countries that already aim to pledge will be attending the conference, while those do not will not be present. While the pledging conference will hopefully allow for progress to occur in relation to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, many fear that political will is insufficient and attendance is too low. At the very least, however, short-term priorities should focus on keeping the port of Hudaydah open and extracting as much aid as possible from potential international donors. Political will is a notoriously finite commodity and the governments who back the Saudi-led coalition should use their influence to urge the Saudi Arabian government to allow humanitarian aid through the naval blockades and also provide international aid themselves. As it stands, this solution remains unlikely as the conflict in Yemen remains a tertiary concern in comparison to the Syrian conflict.