May 22, 2015 marked the beginning of an ongoing civil war in Yemen, contributing to the start of what is currently one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Conflict, disease, famine, and the breakdown of public institutions and services have led Yemen to the dire state it is in today. With a population of 30.5 million people, 80% are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
In the past six years, political conflict has intensified, leading to a great deal of instability in the country. After the forced transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Vice President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Houthi rebels, with President Saleh’s support, took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government, forcing President Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.
An article by journalist Patrick Wintour titled, “Yemen Civil Car: The Conflict Explained,” discusses the start and cause of the conflict in Yemen:
“The Houthis belong to a small branch of Shia Muslims known as Zaydis. They captured the capital, forcing Hadi to flee eventually to Riyadh.”
Since the capture of Sana’a, the Houthis have been able to keep control of the area through force. In response, Saudia Arabia, a neighbor of Yemen, formed a coalition in support of President Hadi, sending in airstrikes as a form of retaliation for what they see as an illegal action. Many attempts at peace by the UN have failed, as the civil war continues and opposing forces find themselves in a stalemate.
“In cases like this, I usually think about international efforts. For me, when a situation this dire is happening, it takes the collaboration of world governments to band together for the greater good. We (humans) have a hard time putting aside our differences to work together. This type of crisis requires a variety of support systems, not just one element like money. The biggest change we need....[is] universal acceptance of basic human rights,” said Joseph Bonafede, a history teacher at Fair Lawn High School.
The effect the war has had on the Yemenis is substantial. Five years of conflict have left millions of people displaced, or in need of protection, and the numbers continue to rise as the conflict intensifies.
In the relief plan for Yemen titled, “Humanitarian Response Plan,” posted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it describes the UN’s June - December 2020 plan for providing aid and hopefully stabilizing the country:
“Since January, seven new frontlines have opened. Fighting has intensified along 19 frontlines during March and is now on-going along 42. More than 81,420 people have been displaced in the last five months, most from near the new frontlines in Marib, Jawf, and Nimh.”
Due to the ongoing war, many public institutions have been negatively affected, including public hospitals, which has led to widespread disease throughout Yemen. Adding to the problem, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing health crisis as health experts work tirelessly to stop the spread of other diseases like cholera, malaria, diphtheria, and dengue, which have now killed thousands. On top of issues with disease, the lack of sanitation, due to water shortages, has only served to compound the current health crisis.
In its relief plan, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has acknowledged the complication that Covid-19 now presents for Yemen:
“Unless steps to suppress and address COVID-19 are immediately scaled-up, the virus is likely to spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than almost anywhere else.”
Making matters worse, Yemen is at the brink of famine, in part due to The World Food Program’s partial aid suspension since the WFP and the Houthi authorities had been unable to come to an agreement on who would be responsible for monitoring the food routing system. Over 230 districts are food insecure, meaning that 20.1 million people are now in need of food. Since the conflict began, millions have depended on food assistance to survive.
Journalist Gabrielle Resnick, in her recent article, “Yemen's Famine: Not Enough Food - and Plenty of Blame to Go Around,” discusses the on-going horrors regarding the growing famine in Yemen:
“Normally, [a] family would have received a monthly basket from the World Food Program consisting of 75 kilograms of wheat, two bottles of cooking oil, sugar, and lentils. That stopped when WFP shipments were held up due to a standoff between the agency and the Houthi authorities. Both sides had disagreed over who would be responsible for monitoring the food routing system.”
Despite the challenges Yemen faces, many in the US, even here in Fair Lawn, are largely unaware of the on-going crisis. A member of the Fair Lawn High School Journalism Club conducted a poll on the topic of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen to see how many Fair Lawn High School students were aware of the crisis. The results were shocking as few teens actually knew anything about the crisis.
The poll consisted of the two following questions: “Are you aware of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen?” and the follow-up question, “If you answered yes, write a brief summary of what you know.”
Out of the 31 students polled, consisting of both Sophomores and Juniors, only five students knew or had even heard about the humanitarian crisis. Two students even admitted to never having heard of the country.
This lack of awareness is troublesome, and much of it can be blamed on both a lack of media coverage of the events that have continued to transpire in Yemen, in addition to on-going suppression of information and a lack of transparency from within Yemen itself.
“We don’t have that coverage in media, we don’t have that support, it’s really hard to get information from the country, the cases of kids dying from malnutrition are just so sad, so sad,” said Resnick.