Yemen: The World’s Forgotten Conflict

 

With the crises in Syria and Iraq the worldwide community has largely ignored the civil war in Yemen. The conflict began in September of 2014 when an Iranian-backed tribal Shiite group, the Houthis, overthrew the Sunni government led by President Hadi. Since then, a group of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the U.S., France, and the U.K., have sought to put President Hadi back in power. The ensuing battle for control between these two groups has served as the main violence in the country over the last two years. Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world. As of 2012 44% of the country’s population were malnourished and 5 million needed emergency aid. Add a civil war to this already fragile nation, and the results have been nothing short of a tragedy.

2.4 million people have been displaced and roughly half of the country’s medical facilities either do not function or are insufficient. The war has already produced an estimated 10,000 deaths, and upwards of 4,000 of these civilians(700 children), all of which are likely to rise as the conflict continues. Yemen’s infrastructure is broken, making the delivery of aid extremely challenging. The country’s water system also is in shambles. Half of the population doesn’t have access to clean water, with the capital, Sanaa, only having water one out of every four days. Some projections suggest that Sanaa will have no water by 2017, and in the city of Taiz water currently only runs one day a month. 2,240 cases of Cholera have already been reported. Eighty percent of the population needs aid of some sort, and 370,000 children younger than five carry the risk of starving to death.

Meanwhile, the war rages on. The chaos has created an environment that has allowed ISIS and Al Qaeda to gain footholds in certain regions. Failed peace talks between the countries have proven only to escalate the violence. Saudi Arabia’s bombings on a prison, hospitals, industrial plants, and other non-military places have caused humanitarian groups to boycott Saudi products. In the deadliest attack of the war, Saudi Arabia executed an airstrike on a funeral, killing 140 and injuring over 500 people. The U.S. government, having sold the Saudis 22.2 billion dollars worth of arms since the conflict began, along with cluster bombs, quickly tried to distance itself from the incident. Pentagon Spokesman, Adam Stump, stated that the U.S.’s support of the Saudis was by no means a “blank check.” The U.S. soon after however, found itself directly involved in the conflict. On October 13th the USS Mason was fired at by two missiles off the west coast of Yemen by Houthi forces. The U.S. escalated tensions, retaliating by launching cruise missiles at the site from where the original attack had emanated. PRI’s Richard Hall, spoke of what this incident with the U.S. means in terms of a peaceful Yemen in the future. He said “when something like this happens, it kind of pushes the possibility[of peace] further into the distance.” Indeed it seems that peace is far in the distance, especially with Mr. Hadi stating that he will only negotiate with the Houthis if they surrender.

As the country limps along, haunting stories continuously surface from the many victims. A mother who lost her three daughters said she “wish[ed] I[she] had died with them.” A father whose newborn son died from a lack of oxygen recalls how “We took him to every hospital we possibly could before he finally died,” and that “I[he] wanted to take him outside the city,” but that the blockade kept them from getting his son the help he needed to live. A man who survived an airstrike in Sanaa spoke of how “I[He] heard a whiz and knew it was a rocket coming…I[he] lay down and prayed out loud.” He then noted how he “saw all my body covered in blood.” While, many more disturbing pictures can be painted from countless tragedies in Yemen, the real message the world needs to hear concerning Yemen comes from one alone: A resident described a man who during an airstrike was screaming “‘Save us! Save us!” The world may have already failed to save this man and thousands of others, but a global effort needs to be made or these numbers will continue to climb in a country that seemingly doesn’t have a voice to call for help.