Yemen: Civilian suffering increases as civil war continues

The situation in Yemen today reads like an all-too-familiar narrative: as warring factions vie for political power, the toll taken on innocent civilians is continually increasing.

Fighters can be broadly divided between those loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi—who fled the country in March—and Shia Houthi rebels. The conflict’s dynamics, however, are much more complex than a simple two-party division – extremist groups operating in the region include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (ISIS). External actors have also been incorporated into the violent power struggle that erupted in the country, with a Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes against the Houthi rebels.

On June 24, a United Nations envoy addressed the Security Council and the media about Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation as a result of the ongoing conflict. The envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, noted that almost 80 percent of the country is in need of humanitarian assistance. Overall, Ahmed warned, Yemen is currently “one step away from famine” as the fighting rages on during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, disease has been major problem in the country. Cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-born viral infection, have been reported in alarming numbers since March; according to a WHO spokesman, there are more than 3000 suspected cases. In addition, Ahmed warned that polio could reemerge within the country as well.

These issues are part of a wider healthcare crisis in the country, with the WHO describing the health system as “on the verge of breakdown.” The conflict has undermined the basic operations of the system, with hospitals destroyed, health workers killed, food, medicine, and fuel shortages, lack of access to water and sanitation, and other disturbing problems. As a result, the number of preventable deaths is rising.

The picture looks even bleaker for Yemen’s civilian population when considering that the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes have injured innocent civilians and wreaked havoc on the country’s infrastructure, but have so far failed to defeat the Houthis that the strikes are meant to target. Since the conflict began, over 2000 people have been killed and over 8000 have been wounded.

As the country spirals further into chaos, the suffering of the civilian population serves as a poignant reminder of the impotence of violence and destruction as a means to solving divisions in the political realm. Until warring factions accept this, the continued suffering of innocent civilians is inevitable.