UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Fire in Yemen

Earlier this month, The Southern Transitional Council (STC) captured the remote Island of Socotra, 350 miles east of Somalia. The ancient island is the largest of four islands in the archipelago corridor of Yemen, famed for  unparalleled biodiversity and mystical landscape. Socotra is referenced in several historical texts – including the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a first-century AD Greek navigation aid. According to some accounts, Socotra is the alleged location of the Garden of the Eden as described in the Quran and Old Testament. Others claim that the land mass is the long lost island of Atlantis.  The remote island has a population of less than 50,000 and most people who live there speak the ancient unwritten language of Soqotri. In order to protect the island’s unique landscape and cultural heritage, UNESCO recognized Socotra as a World Heritage site in 2008. Experts worry the increasing foreign influence edged on by Yemen’s five-year civil war will erode the island’s fragile ecosystem and unique way of life, which is based around fishing and indigenous tradition.

According to The Guardian, immediately following STC’s seizure of the Socotra’s principal city of Hadibu, the internationally recognized government of Yemen led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi condemned the aggression, calling it “full-fledged” coup and accused STC forces of attacking government buildings in “gang-style.” Seven days later, President Hadi pleaded with the STC to re-enter negotiation on the Riyadh agreement – a 2019 Saudi-brokered power-sharing deal that fell through soon after its initial signing in November according to a report by Bloomberg

 At one point in time, the STC and Hadi’s forces were allies in a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to free Yemen of a Shiite Houthi insurgency in the country’s north region. However, recent developments in the multifaceted conflict led the STC to break its loyalty with Hadi, and start a campaign for the renewal of an independent Southern Yemen state. Armed confrontations between the two forces have surged on mainland Yemen since April of this year, when the southern separatist group first seized the port city of Aden. Currently, ACLED reports the STC has declared self-rule over several provinces in south Yemen, including Aden, Lahj, Al-Dhale, and part of Abyan.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formerly the financial backbone of the STC, but pulled funding for the group last year. Socotra has been previously captured by the STC (in May 2019) and has seen increasing influence from the UAE, who took over the commercial airport and allegedly built a secret military base on the island in the year prior. According to reporting by the Independent, the Jurist, the Middle East Monitor, and Al Jazeera, Auba Dhabi began funding infrastructure projects and bolstering Emirates military presence in Socotra soon after the island was hit by a series of devastating cyclones in 2015. 

The island of Socotra is seen as an asset to most competing parties in Yemen due to its abundance of natural resources, biodiversity, and strategic geographic location on the Bab el Mandeb strait. This strait links the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and one of the world’s most active shipping lanes according to Global Edge. The island is most famed for its oil reserves and rare Red Dragon Tree species, which grows nowhere else in the world but Socotra. According to National Geographic, the whimsical umbrella-like shrub is endemic to the island, and has been harvested for centuries to produce a bright red homeopathic sap – which was once worth its weight in gold during the Middle Ages. At one time traces of the Red Dragon’s homeopathic sap could be found in medicine cabinets of the world’s most powerful emperors from Rome to China. The alien-looking tree is the island’s namesake and most prized export.

Since Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015, scientists and conservationists have not been able to continue their research on the archipelagos islands. Experts worry some of the island’s ancient species will not survive the reduced rainfall in the region if more aggressive conservation missions are not undertaken. UNESCO’s world heritage report cites that 37% of Socotra’s plant species, 90% of its reptile species, and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world. The island is also a crucial stopping point for migratory birds and other endangered marine life crucial to the African horn’s fragile ecosystem.

According to the government-controlled news agency, Saba, President Hadi continues to urge the STC forces to commit to the ceasefire in response to efforts by Saudi Arabia to help “end the armed rebellion against the state and its institutions and resumption of the implementation of Riyadh agreement.” Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia, both who have asserted military presence on Socotra since 2018, have released public comment in response to STC’s most recent occupation of the island. 

Isabel Cuddyer


The Conflict in Yemen

The current conflict in Yemen is one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all time. Indeed, it is the most pressing one blighting our modern

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Yemen, The Largest Humanitarian Crisis In The World

In the past, Yemen was a prosperous developing country suffused with economical and societal riches. Yemen’s roots in the development and distribution of internationally admired goods like coffee and gold date back centuries, which served as a reliable foundation for growth across much of its existence. However, over time it became apparent that Yemen’s unique capabilities would not prove to be an efficient protective mechanism against the travesties of humanity’s inner workings. Slowly, due to international involvement and rivaling political parties intervening with the nation’s societal welfare, the peace that Yemenis embraced for many years was beginning to dissolve into a thing of the past.
2015: The Ignition to Civil Turmoil
In 2004, the United States pushed the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to concentrate on combating a terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In response, Yemen’s military force backed by Saudi Arabia launched multiple strikes against a group known as Houthis, who Saleh alleged were creating a dynamic of separatism ,enforcing their religious beliefs on the country’s people and operating in collusion with AQAP. This created a severe rift between the most prominent religious parties in the nation, which established a hostile environment for the state of Yemen and all of its citizens. The trend towards a civil war, indicated by this long standing atmosphere of tension and conflict finally came to a precipice 11 years later. In February of 2015, the Houthi rebellion finally reached the place of power that it desired by forcing Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (then leader of Yemen, and technically still president of the nation today) and his cabinet to flee to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Houthis essentially in control of the state and all of its facilities. Just a month later, the Saudi Arabian military set the goals of its military intervention to reverse the nation back into the authority of the Hadi government and retain governance over Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Ever since, these two factions have fought relentlessly for control over the nation, which once gave off a lustrous tint of optimism, but after seemingly endless warfare it has been reduced to a pile of debris and a living case study of how a society can collapse under the pressures of greed, religious opposition, and the corruption of foreign affairs.

The Current State of the Humanitarian Crisis
The civil war in Yemen has decreased the living conditions of its people to a terrifying level. With no resolution in sight, Yemeni people are faced with a situation where optimism for a brighter future seems more like an act of dreaming than a mental reflection of reality. In recent weeks, famine conditions caused by blockades on the borders of the nation and massive economic downfall rivaling famous events on global markets like the Great Depression have reached virality in an increased amount of regions around Yemen. It is estimated that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. Along with mass starvation, the nationwide warfare has resulted in the displacement of approximately 4 million people, and the killing of over 100 000 people since 2015. These numbers give shocking insight into the sheer magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, and with important political figures like the U.S. President Joe Biden recently announcing reductions in international affairs including the civil war in Yemen, it is difficult to perceive a future where Yemeni citizens will be able to go back to the things they love. An individual can only enjoy the level of happiness that their society’s living conditions permits them to, and unfortunately for the Yemeni people, the likelihood of that ever getting back to a point of admiration remains shrouded in mystery.

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