By Ashley Halabi | May 16, 2017
With many countries in the Middle East and Africa suffering from civil wars, famine, and terrorism, it becomes difficult to keep track of all that is going on around the region. Still, some countries are getting more international attention and support than others, leaving a country like Yemen to suffer from world neglect except for the involved military coalitions and fighters.
Yemen has been used as a battleground for a proxy war since March 2015 when Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Gulf states into the country to fight the Houthi insurgent group, using U.S. logistical support. Before that, Yemen was also caught up in the Arab Spring with anti-government protests erupting in 2011 and resulting in the injury of the unpopular president and his exile to Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis, an ideological group of Zaidi Shi’ism, have been targeted by the Yemeni government ever since they took up arms in 2004 to defend themselves against its attacks. In 2011, they were among the many groups to take part in the popular protests against the government of Ali Abdallah Saleh and managed to take control of the capital Sanaa in 2014. This prompted Saudi Arabia to come to the aid of the exiled president Saleh and initiated an attack under the name of “Decisive Storm” which implies that the air strikes on Yemen would end in a prompt and ‘decisive’ victory against Iran’s proxy fighters. Unsurprisingly, the war hasn’t ended but increased in complexity while causing at least 10,000 civilian casualties and 42,500 injuries.
Of the four countries across the globe that are suffering from famine, Yemen was deemed as the ’primary driver’ of the worst food security crisis in the world today. A child dies every ten minutes in Yemen amidst a humanitarian crisis in which 18.8 million people are under the threat of starvation. Civilians have been suffering from more than just malnutrition. They also face diseases like cholera, indiscriminate air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, and a denial of access to humanitarian aid from both parties to the conflict. At least 3 million civilians have been displaced from the conflict, and the number of child soldiers is now in the thousands, as they have no other options for survival.
This invites the question: what makes the crisis in Yemen different from the one in Syria or Somalia? Yemen is basically a battleground for a show of power between Iran and Saudi Arabia which Yemeni civilians have no interest in. Unfortunately, the U.S. is a large stakeholder in this war offering logistical, military, and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. Moreover, the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the use of banned munitions in the conflict.
The war has no end in sight, as U.S. President Trump is pushing for a greater role in the conflict. The previous administration sought to limit its involvement nearing the end of Obama’s term, and many critics believe that Obama only got involved in this proxy war to appease Saudi Arabia after the Iran Nuclear Deal threatened US-Saudi relations. This came at a huge cost for nearly every party to the conflict, including thousands of innocent civilians. However, groups like Al-Qaeda have thrived in this chaos, especially by raising money through bank robberies and easily recruiting disaffected civilians.
While the Middle East and North Africa region has gained worldwide attention with the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Yemen is being neglected while the country is the target of continuing air-strikes. More importantly, a generation of innocent Yemeni children is being wiped out while we give our unconditional support and sympathy to Western countries receiving masses of refugees from other conflicts. It remains to be seen whether global humanitarian groups and multilateral agencies will increase their involvement to help alleviate this massive humanitarian crisis, and whether the U.S. will continue to take part in this destructive war.
Ashley Halabi graduated with a degree in Political Studies from Lebanon where she wrote for her university's newspaper. She completed a diploma in International Criminal Law. At GPS, Ashley started a human rights student organization CeaseFire to raise awareness about human rights violations in war-torn countries.