Yemen’s Civil War: Intro to the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

Yemen’s Civil War: Intro to the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis


According to the UN, 85% of Yemen’s population, around 24 million civilians, are in need of humanitarian assistance, including nearly 13 million children. More than 150,000 people have been killed as a result of the largely forgotten and ignored conflict. Most of the death in Yemen is due to indirect causes: hunger, cholera, and other preventable diseases. Only half the country has access to clean water.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene | UNICEF Yemen

As the flames of the pro-democracy Arab Spring engulfed the Middle East, 20 years of iron-fist rule by President Ali Abdullah Saleh—who once compared ruling Yemen to “dancing over the heads of snakes”—came to an end as Yemenis rose up in revolution. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), oversaw a deal to put Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in power.

After Hadi came to power in Nov. 2011, not much changed. Proposed reforms at pushing Yemen toward a federal model of government were unpopular, civilians recognizing this would confine the country’s oil wealth to its two least-populated provinces. Scholar Isa Blumi noted, “To any rational observer, the idea of developing Yemen into six disproportionate regions with enormous autonomy was a blatant effort to benefit foreign interests and subdue the rebellious populations through poverty and administrative obscurity.” The same old elites were placed back into power by the Saudis after the revolution. Discontent remained. 

The Houthis, an armed minority-Shia rebel group in Yemen’s north, had taken part in the uprising against President Saleh. In 2014, as the status quo remained and Saudi Arabia had sidelined both factions in negotiations, Saleh loyalists and the Houthis became unlikely allies. Houthis and Saleh loyalists rose up and took over Yemen’s capital, Saana, forcing President Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. Saudi saw Houthis and the new conflict as an immediate threat to their southern border and an opportunity for rival Iran to gain a foothold in the region. Houthi followers demonstrate to show rejection of an offer by the Saudi-led coalition to pay compensation for victims of an air strike in Saada, Yemen

Saudi Arabia started a multi-nation allied military campaign in response, with the goal of restoring the Hadi government to power and preventing Iranian influence. Turkey, Germany, the U.S., France, Canada, and Britain are supporting members of the alliance, providing the Saudi Kingdom with weapons, intelligence, and logistics in their war and its massive aerial bombing campaign.

Saudi accuses Iran, a strong Shia power, of backing the Shia Houthis. Iran openly supports the rebels but denies providing any military backing. However, recovered Iranian-produced rockets used in attacks on Saudi Arabian oil fields indicate otherwise. 

In 2015, Saudi Arabia created a land, air, and sea blockade preventing any supplies/aid from getting in or out of Yemen. The Houthis also partake in blocking, destroying, and taking aid from the starved civilian population. The rebels have also monumentally failed at providing the civilians living in their western controlled areas with basic healthcare or maintenance of sewage and garbage. 

As the war raged on, al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated terror groups saw an opportunity in the chaos and moved in, taking control of some parts of Yemen’s south. All the while, other local secessionist armed groups in the south declared themselves independent. 

The alliance between former President Saleh and the Houthis broke down in 2017 after Saleh switched sides on national TV, saying he wished to start a conversation with the Saudi coalition. He was assassinated by the Houthis two days later.

From the hopes of a democratic revolution, Yemen has become a bombed out wasteland of starving children, surrounded by a cluster-fuck of foreign and local groups warring while international and regional powers compete for influence—like a violent playground—as Saudi Arabia unleashes U.S.-made fire from the skies.  



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