After six years of civil war, the situation in Yemen is worse than ever. Since the conflict escalated in 2015, after the Saudi-led military intervention against the Iran-aligned Houthi militia, around 233,000 people have died as a result of fighting and war-related problems such as food shortages and damaged infrastructure. UNICEF reports that around 24 million people living in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s population.
Despite the efforts of the international community to restore peace in the state, the living conditions as well as security of the Yemenis have been deteriorating each year. Yemen has been progressively turning into a humanitarian disaster, and without the assistance of foreign aid, the country would quickly collapse entirely. The complexity of the problem and the far-reaching consequences of the war make it questionable whether Yemen will ever experience peace and stability again.
Over the last six years, around 4 million Yemenis have been forced to flee their homes because of frequent bombings. In recent weeks, fighting intensified in the city of Marib between the Houthi militia and the internationally-recognized government forces stationed there, raising fears it could trigger the biggest mass displacement since the beginning of the civil war. Adding to concerns, the World Food Programme points out that Yemen “regularly suffers climate shocks.” Hence, climate emergency has been one of the main drivers of internal displacement in the state, as each year, during the rainy season, many people lose their houses in floods.
Even before they were displaced, most of the Yemenis fleeing to IDP camps already lived in poverty.
Affected families usually seek shelter in abandoned buildings or crowded camps for internally displaced people (IDP), which only gives them temporary protection. Destroyed buildings and fragile tents in camps can quickly become damaged if severe weather and armed conflict persist. At night, temperatures can drop significantly and families often only have one blanket to share between multiple people. In fact, even before they were displaced, most of the Yemenis fleeing to IDP camps already lived in poverty. Now, their situation is becoming desperate as they are left with no belongings and no sources of income.
Currently, around 75 percent of Yemenis live in poverty. By 2022, 65 percent of the populace could face extreme poverty, according to the prognosis of the United Nations Development Programme. That would make Yemen the poorest country in the world, and a large proportion of its population would have less than US$1.90 a day to spend.
As a result of the economic turmoil, the vast majority of families in Yemen cannot afford to buy adequate food, and the things they eat do not provide them with adequate nutrients and vitamins. Indeed, the problem of food scarcity in Yemen is so widespread that the state is close to famine, as the UN’s World Food Programme reports 16.2 million people in Yemen are food insecure. That includes around 2.3 million children under five who suffer from acute malnutrition. The UN agencies say that, without urgent help and treatment, more than 400,000 children can die of starvation in 2021.
And yet, countries whose economies have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – such as the UK, the US, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia – have been cutting aid to Yemen. At the last donor conference, the UN did not meet the target of US$3.85 billion and raised only US$1.7 billion. Sadly, the underfunding of humanitarian aid is likely to further chronic hunger for millions of Yemenis.
While the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says, “all human beings have the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger,” upholding this right in Yemen has proven to be a difficult undertaking.
Many Yemenis, malnourished and living in inhumane conditions, have weakened immune systems and many die of treatable diseases.
Many Yemenis, malnourished and living in inhumane conditions, have weakened immune systems and many die of treatable diseases. For example, while in developed countries there have been almost no cholera cases for over a century, Yemen has been trying to fight the disease since the outbreak in 2016.
The World Health Organization reports that between the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2020, over 2 million cholera cases were detected in the country. The disease spreads easily in Yemen because of a shortage of safe, potable water, and a dysfunctional waste management system. Clean water resources in Yemen are so scarce that people need to carefully plan how they use what little they have. They often have no choice but to use dirty water to wash themselves and make food.
Yemen is notorious for poor maternal and newborn healthcare. UNICEF reports that “one woman and six newborns die every two hours in Yemen from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.” Only three out of ten births take place in hospitals, and, even if women are admitted to a health facility, newborns are often delivered by underqualified staff.
Every ten minutes at least one child in Yemen dies because of diseases like diarrhea, measles, or respiratory infections though these conditions are not typically fatal in most parts of the world.
In the war-torn country, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional strain on the already devastated healthcare system. Hospitals that have not been destroyed by war face staff, medicine, and equipment shortages. There are only a few hundred ventilator machines in Yemen, for a population of over 30 million. The country is, therefore, facing a public health emergency within an already devastated security emergency.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an additional strain on the already devastated healthcare system. Hospitals that have not been destroyed by war face staff, medicine, and equipment shortages.
Years of disease, poverty, and violence have turned Yemen into a living hell. The future is uncertain, yet it’s hard to imagine peace and prosperity being established any time soon, given the current circumstances. Saving Yemen is a race against time. Each month that the fighting continues, it fuels the hunger and health crises that will soon affect everyone in the vulnerable state. The consequences of the war are evident not only in the tangible damages to the country’s infrastructure but also in the mental anguish of traumatized Yemenis, many of whom have lost all hope for a better future.
Once the fighting stops, Yemenis will need to rebuild their lives from scratch. That will be a lengthy process and many will rely on the younger generation to reconstruct communities and their cultural heritage. That is a big burden to put on the shoulders of children who are being deprived of the possibility to get a decent education and access to proper healthcare. Countless children have grown up knowing nothing other than the realities caused by the war. Indeed, children are the country’s future, but without immediate help, many of them might not live to see or shape a better, peaceful Yemen.
It is clear Yemen is falling to pieces at a faster pace than ever before as the humanitarian crises continue to exacerbate. Still, it is imperative the international community does not deem it a lost cause. It is time to step up efforts to provide support and relief to suffering Yemenis, and the only way to save Yemen is through joint endeavor. It remains to be seen, however, how the situation will develop.