Why Has the World Turned a Blind Eye to the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis?
In the wake of other tragedies throughout 2017, the Yemeni Civil War, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, has been overlooked across the world.
Not only has the constant violence brought on by the war triggered a refugee crisis, but the food security of 17 million Yemeni civilians is threatened by famine. Moreover, a new cholera outbreak in the country has surpassed over a million cases. Blockades enforced by the Saudi-led coalition have made it difficult for humanitarian aid to be distributed to those in desperate need, further perpetuating the crisis.
The Yemeni Civil War has its roots in the conflict between the former Yemen government and the Houthi insurgents. The Houthis, a predominately Shia Islam group, began their insurgency in 2004 but ultimately failed to maintain any significant representation in state politics.
However, after siding with demonstrators during the Arab Spring uprisings, the Houthis rapidly gained power and influence in Yemen. In 2015, they seized the presidential complex in Sana’a and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to resign.
Hadi appealed to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority countries to intervene, and in April 2015, a Saudi Arabia led coalition sought to drive the Houthis out of power. This incited a civil war that has dragged on for over two years, killing thousands and displacing millions of citizens.
The war has displaced over 3 million civilians, resulting in the loss of livelihoods and increased reliance on international aid to meet basic needs. Of these displaced civilians, over 2 million lived in crowded refugee camps with little food, water, or medicine.
The dire conditions within refugee camps and the destruction of sanitation systems have resulted in the increased susceptibility of civilians to disease; suspected incidences of cholera have surpassed a million cases since April 2017 and other diseases such as diphtheria have risen to prominence.
Furthermore, the devastating consequences of this civil war are compounded by Yemen’s reliance on imported food. Yemen relies on imports for 90 percent of its food, and the civil war has created delays on food imports and universal inflation on food prices throughout the country. As a result, prices of food across Yemen have increased by 28 percent from November to December 2017.
The stagnation of Yemen’s economy has further exacerbated food insecurity in Yemen as shortages to essential supplies such as fuel and water have caused more than 55% of Yemeni private-sector workers to lose employment. These shortages are largely due to the Saudi blockade on Houthi-controlled ports., as it has stopped the flow of fuel and other resources into Yemen.
Inflation on the price of food, coupled with the displacement of families and the loss of jobs, has caused severe food insecurity for 17 million Yemeni civilians. The consequences of widespread food insecurity are exhibited by the acute malnutrition suffered by nearly 400,000 Yemeni children as of December 2017.
Even though Yemen is on the brink of catastrophe, it still has not received adequate humanitarian aid to meet basic needs. The United States has done little to address the impeding humanitarian disaster, only stating that they believed there is no military solution to the war in Yemen.
Many speculate that the lack of international outrage over the Saudi blockade stems from the complicity of some world powers in perpetuating the crisis. The clearest demonstration of complicity in creating the disaster are the UK and US arms deals with Saudi Arabia. The UK’s profits of £4.6 billion ($6.2 billion USD) in the arms trade with Saudi Arabia since 2015 and the 2017 US-Saudi arms deal worth $350 billion over 10 years demonstrate the immense profitability of selling to Saudi Arabia.
The negative consequence of the sale of these American and British weapons is evident by the Saudi coalition’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure. Moreover, the UK and the US contribute strategic support to the Saudi coalition, despite it having bombed refugee camps, markets, funeral homes, Doctors Without Borders hospitals, and schools in Yemen, killing thousands of civilians.
Although the US intervention into Yemen has been criticized, some argue US intervention is a necessary evil, as the civil war has produced power voids within Yemen. In many instances, al-Qaeda has exploited these power voids for their own gain. As a result, some view it as imperative that the United States intervene and halt the jihadist movement in Yemen. In fact, the US has done so, using shared intelligence with the Saudi government to target al-Qaeda militants with drone strikes.
However, despite the obvious benefits of curbing jihadist terrorism, US intervention may be doing more harm than good. Continuing the use of drone strikes and selling weapons to the Saudi coalition may aid jihadist recruitment within Yemen, ultimately strengthening the influence of al-Qaeda.
Furthermore, some have categorized US intervention as aiding and abetting the Saudi government in committing war crimes. The US sale of weapons, its tactical and strategic assistance, and the logistical help it has given to the Saudi government has indirectly produced the humanitarian crisis that Yemen faces.
The reluctance of the US and the UK to denounce Saudi war crimes in Yemen ultimately proves their complicity in creating and perpetuating the crisis at hand. However, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the impeding catastrophe.
Oxfam recommends that world powers urge the Saudi coalition and the powers in conflict to allow the commercial flow of food, fuel and medicine through air, land, and sea routes, as well as the safe access to humanitarian aid by civilians in need. They further recommend that world powers should lobby for the avoidance of attacking civilian infrastructure indiscriminately, as the destruction of hospitals, schools, markets and water infrastructure has devastated the country.
The world cannot afford to wait for this civil war to conclude and the crisis to be resolve internally. Should nothing be done to improve the conditions of the people of Yemen, those who watched from afar will be complicit in the starvation and deaths of millions of people.