The civil war in Yemen is called the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. The situation is both deadlocked and complex and bears the mark of being the scene of a power struggle between powerful states in the Middle East.
- Why is there a civil war in Yemen?
- How has this affected the population?
- Which parties are involved in the conflict?
- And is there a solution in sight?
Yemen seemed in many ways like a success story after the Arab Spring in 2011 that led to upheavals in the Middle East. But the success would prove to be short-lived.
There are two main figures in the history of the civil war in Yemen: former president and now deceased Ali Abdullah Saleh, and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Saleh had been in power for many years when he resigned after demonstrations and regional pressure, and Vice President Hadi took over in 2012. In the power vacuum that arose, the so-called Houthi movement, an actor that will be described later in the text, tried to take control. in the capital Sanaa in the autumn of 2014. Large parts of the Yemeni army remained passive because of their loyalty to former President Saleh, who had now allied with the Houthis in order to regain their influence. Another political group, al-Islah, resisted in Sanaa, but the Houthis won the battle and seized power in the capital.
According to thedresswizard, Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (front) and current president and then-vice president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011 seem to thrive in each other’s company. However, it was not many years before they were on opposite sides of a bloody civil war and Saleh was killed.
President Hadi was now isolated in Sanaa and had in principle lost his power. In February 2015, Hadi managed to escape south to the large port city of Aden. Hadi brought together the loyal groups he could find, al-Islah, local tribes, army units and activists who wanted greater independence for southern Yemen.
The situation in Yemen soon developed into a power struggle between Arab states. Hadi was supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These states considered Hadi’s enemies, the Houthis, as Iranian supporters. The Saudi air force carried out attacks and large military forces from the Emirates were deployed on the ground, and slowly but surely the Houthis and their allies were pushed north. Since then, the fronts have stopped moving and the situation is deadlocked. In the midst of this, Yemen has a starving population. Children die of malnutrition, and few see the way out of this terrible situation.
2: Hunger and cholera
Even before the civil war began, Yemen had many challenges. Oil reserves were dwindling, and revenues began to decline. In addition, the drinking water supply in many cities was poor, and the health care system was deficient. The war has made these problems much worse. Since 2015, two million children have had to drop out of school. 2,500 schools are out of order, and a third of these schools have been damaged in the war. The airstrikes from Saudi Arabia have injured many civilians, and bombs have hit both schools and hospitals. The impact on the economy is also large, with gross domestic product falling by almost 42 per cent in the last two years.
During 2017, the situation got even worse. Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports because the Houthis fired missiles at Saudi targets, including the capital Riyadh. Following pressure from the United States, the blockade was eased somewhat, but aid organizations still had problems getting food to the starving population due to extensive controls. The blockade has today been lifted, but controls still make it difficult to get enough food in on time – and now the warehouses are empty. The food situation is serious. Only 57 percent of Yemen’s import needs were met in March 2018, and the UN estimates that 22 million people need humanitarian aid, including 1.8 million malnourished children. Less than half of the hospitals and health clinics operate, which means that more than 15 million Yemenis are without access to health care. Throughout eastern Yemen, cholera, a life-threatening diarrheal disease, has spread rapidly, with only 45 percent of the population having access to clean water. In addition to all this, three million people are internally displaced, refugees in their own country. The UN agency OCHA calls the situation in Yemen the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. Yemen’s vulnerability before the conflict broke out could lead to the effects of the war lasting even after a possible peace agreement.
But a working agreement does not seem to be right around the corner. In the last year, there have also been clashes between allies. This means that humanitarian actors also have problems in what has been categorized as safe areas. The many parties, the loose alliances and the foreign interference make the situation very complex.
3: The Houthis and their allies
Complicated and changing alliances characterize the Yemeni civil war, and the Houthi movement is an important part. But who are the Houthis? The movement originated around Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, and has taken its name from his family. Al-Houthi came from an important Shiite Muslim family in Yemen. Shiites, who make up about 35 percent of the population, have never been discriminated against and have held prominent positions in the state, but Saudi Arabian Sunni Muslim missionary activity made them nervous beyond the 1990s. They felt that their religion was threatened.
In 2003, protesters accused President Saleh, the president ousted during the Arab Spring, of being too pro-Saudi and US-friendly. Saleh tried to arrest Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who was eventually killed. It alternated between fighting and peace agreements and ceasefires between the Houthis and the country’s military forces for a few years, but in the period 2009-2010 the fighting became even tougher. Neighboring Saudi Arabia intervened with air forces on the side of then-President Saleh. The Saudis did this because they were afraid of the spread of the conflict, but also for fear that the enemy Iran would gain influence in Yemen.