yemen: on the brink of being wiped off the map

© UNICEF/Romenzi. Children sit in front of a house damaged by an air strike in Yemen.

The Worst Humanitarian Crisis The World Has Witnessed 

For the past six months, the news has been dominated by constant waves of coronavirus updates and prominent issues emerging from the United States. This has overshadowed equally devastating and pressing news from other corners of the world, among which includes Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. 

Recently brought to light by a tsunami of Tweets and Instagram posts, tech-savvy youngsters have once again brought it upon themselves to shed light on the darkest places we have created on Earth. Let me be very clear about the following topic: Yemen has been thrown headfirst into an abyss of the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever borne witness to, and we have failed – yet again – to deliver justice.

How Did War Break Out In Yemen?

The reason for this instability and civil war that has erupted in Yemen can be traced back to the failed political transition of 2011. Ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh (who was also the first President of a unified Yemen) handed over his position to now-President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the latter who emerged to be no better a leader than Saleh was. As Hadi stepped up to the job, he had to deal with an array of problems: rebellions, attacks, corruption, unemployment, poverty, famine, and scarcity. These problems didn’t magnify overnight; they were the remnant proofs of the government that came before Hadi’s and the ones before that. When a leader of a country fails his or her own people, that’s just about the most heinous treachery one can commit. Yemen has been living in a state of peril for years now and we are only addressing this today. 

President Hadi presented a weak government. As we’ve all learned in history class, a weak government is like a red flag to the bull that is rebellion. Yemenis were anything but satisfied with Hadi’s incompetency to raise the country out of its problems and hence channeled their support to the Houthis, an Islamic political movement that emerged in the 1990s. Nearing the end of 2014, the Houthis took power over Sanaa (Yemen’s capital city), allegedly backed by Iran. This escalation of events plunged the country into an inevitable civil war. 

When news of the rebellion caught up with Hadi, the President fled to the neighboring country of Saudi Arabia in 2015. Now, let’s backtrack a little to understand why Saudi Arabia is a key element that sparked this civil war. Saudi Arabia and Iran share a historic rivalry due to religious conflicts. So, when it was suspected that the Houthis had the support of Iran, Saudi Arabia immediately viewed Yemen as a proxy battleground. 

A Saudi-led coalition then started bombing Yemen in the name of pushing out the Houthis and reinstating Hadi’s government. This act of bombing was supported by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and more. Due to public pressure in recent years, most of the countries have urged for Saudi Arabia to call for a ceasefire, yet their flow of weapon sales into Saudi Arabia has not been cut off. This is yet another example of all talk no walk from major superpowers who could really make a change if they set their policies straight. 

Due to the silence of these so-called world leaders and the event being under-reported by the news, the war in Yemen has resulted in a series of breaches of humanitarian law. First, both sides have been accused of serious war crimes that we’ve seen play out again and again in both World Wars: enforced disappearances, rape, torture, hostage-holding, arbitrary detentions, and that’s just the top of the list. 

In 2019, the Houthis, the Yemen government, and the Saudi-led coalition all made it upon the United Nation’s Children-Killing Blacklist, which is probably the last blacklist any country should be on. Reports show that the death toll since 2015 is at 112,000 and continues to spike upwards every day. A total of 5491 events have targeted innocent civilians since and 7747 children were recruited as soldiers in the war when they should be receiving freshwater supplies, ample food on the table, quality education, and a roof over their heads. 

The Effects Of War On The People

The war, just like any other that has come before it, stripped its people of survival essentials that most of us – from the outside looking in – take for granted. The excessive and non-stop unrest in Yemen has paved the way for extremist groups like Al-Qaeda to grow into power, initiating attacks in the south of the country. Groups fighting against each other to gain control over ports (such as the one in Hodeidah) while also holding off on foreign attacks have blocked off most, if not all, routes for necessary supplies into the country. With roadblocks and tumbling buildings, millions of people lack access to deliveries of food and fuel, waking up only to hope they can make it past the day. On the rare occasion where they gain access to supplies, said supplies are then ridiculously expensive due to shortage and high demand. 

If that doesn’t scare you about the ghastly reality Yemenis have to live with, maybe the statistics will. 13 million people are dealing with violence and starvation daily, most eating what they can scavenge to get by, which includes crushed leaves. Over 3 million people have been forced to abandon their homes and flee in search of somewhere actually livable, but with airports shut down and borders erected and guarded, most of the escape attempts have been unsuccessful, grounding the citizens amidst the war. Not enough for you to grasp the measure?

UNICEF has reported that around 80% (24 million) of Yemenis are living on aid and 93% (12.3 million) of children are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. One in five kids has lost their homes to the bombs and shells whereas 70% of them lack adequate access to clean water and sanitation, which only serves to worsen their situation. 2 million children are considered malnourished, having little to no food daily and are constantly on the brink of losing their lives before they even lived. To top it all off, the United Nations has declared Yemen as one of the worst places to grow up as a child right now. 

However, those are just war tolls. 

Just as the rest of the world is being plagued by diseases and incompetent leaders, Yemen is battling a cholera epidemic, the coronavirus pandemic, and famine, all while the war wages on. Lately, headlines have spelled out that Yemen may be deleted from all maps because of the war and coronavirus wracking on its doors. Jean-Nicolas Beuze, who has worked with the United Nations for over two decades, said: “The coronavirus may be the straw which will break the camel’s back in Yemen.” 

As compared to other countries, Yemen doesn’t have enough tests to track down every person who is affected by the coronavirus. On top of this, most medical facilities have been destroyed in some way shape or form during the 5-year war, not to mention we’re talking about a population whose collective immunity is expected to be lower than the global average due to lack of food source to feed the body and potentially millions of kids who have yet to be vaccinated. In certain parts of the country, graves are already dug ahead of deaths, the depths waiting to be filled. 

When was the last time we’ve ever heard of a country sitting at the edge of being wiped off the map? A country whose people dug their own graves? There is no denying that we have failed the Middle East, more specifically, Yemen.

It isn’t fair that the media isn’t giving this issue the coverage that it deserves. It isn’t fair that a country has to serve as a playground for two other countries. It isn’t fair that Yemen only has so many medical gears and technology to fight against the virus when nations like the United States can supply their police with full-fledged riot gears. It isn’t fair that we have more than enough food to feed the entire world, yet we allow famine to exist in Yemen. 

I could go on explaining the reasons why it isn’t fair for Yemen to go through this, but I’m afraid that acknowledging injustice is not enough – it has never been enough and it never will be. Why should we be afraid to ask for change? Why shrivel when we should face adversity head-on and demand for better? 

We have to remember, Yemenis are people just like us. Their lives are just as valuable as ours. They are not statistics waiting to be presented in a graph in your future history textbook, they are lives to be saved. 

How Can We Help? 

I hope that once you’ve read up to this point, there is an overwhelming urge inside of you to extend a helping hand to the people of Yemen. Mirroring the Black Lives Matter movement, you will see petitions drawn and donations set up all over the internet. Yes, donate to UNICEF and other organizations who are prioritizing this matter and sign petitions to halt the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, but keep in mind these are merely short-term solutions to long-term problems. It takes more than a one-time sum of money and a signature to enforce change.

There are several other ways we can actively help the people of Yemen.

  1. Freerice App. This is a quiz game app available for download that donates 10 grains of rice to people in need via the UN’s World Food Programme for every correct answer you get. It is simple enough that you could spend ten minutes every day answering trivia questions and make a difference. Plus, the app offers a few interesting categories you can choose from, all of which will help you learn something new. 
  2. ShareTheMeal App. According to the app, it costs only $0.50 to feed one child for a day. This is a crowdfunding app that fights hunger through the UN’s World Food Programme too, enabling users to make small donations and track their progress. 
  3. Educate Yourself. If you’re not in a position where you can actively contribute to the UN’s projects in helping Yemen, the very least you can do is to educate yourself, be it via podcasts (“Voices from Yemen”) or YouTube videos (Yemen: A History of Conflict” by Foreign Policy Association, “Why is Yemen at War?” by Al Jazeera English). Understanding how Yemen came to be what it is today is crucial to avoid other countries repeating the same mistake. 
  4. Educate Others. Get the word out. Make people aware of the situation in Yemen and inspire them to call for change as well. The simplest and most effortless way to save lives in this day and age is to spread awareness.

Julian Assange once said: “Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.”

Now is the time to speak up about this and make our voices heard; not just about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, but about every other hint of injustice that takes place outside of and behind doors. If people put in power are not going to prioritize the same crowd who gave them that power, remember, it is the responsibility of the rest of the world to condemn injustice and inequality, as much as it is our responsibility to give others what we so commonly take for granted.