Currently, Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world with an estimated 17 million at risk of starvation and a recent report by Save the Children estimated that 85,000 children under the age of five have already died from starvation. The total number of deaths has yet to be estimated but most experts agree the numbers are staggeringly high. The scale of the devastation is almost unbelievable and the powers involved are only exacerbating the war, but there is hope.
Yemen’s current political instability has its roots in the Arab spring 4 years prior. During massive political upheavals throughout the Middle East, Houthi insurgents (Shiite rebels) took control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital in 2014. High fuel prices and the need for a political change pushed the Houthi’s into seizing the capital. Negotiations took place but failed quickly, the rebels then took control of the presidential palace in 2015 and forced the current President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government into resigning.
It didn’t take long for Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Gulf states to start a campaign of economic blockades and air strikes targeting Houthi rebels and infrastructure. This coalition made up of Sunni Gulf states targeting followers of a denomination of Shia Islam has prompted a response from Iran. Iran’s been caught attempting to send weapon shipments to the Houthi rebels and when these shipments were seized Iran dispatched its own naval force further increasing the risk of conflict between the two countries.
It’s been reported that the Saudi Arabian led coalition has directly targeted means of food production and distribution in Yemen causing the United Nations to accuse them of war crimes. The famine itself can be directly attributed to the blockade Saudi Arabia is currently controlling around Yemen. Shipments of fuel that power food production equipment and hospitals have been blocked and shipments of food and medicine have been blocked.
Farms, fishing boats, ports and factories have all been targeted by the bombing campaign according to multiple reports. US intelligence and logistics has been helping the Saudi-led coalition causing U.S. Senator Chris Murphy to accuse the US of complicity in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.Although the US is currently revaluating its support following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The current war in Yemen has become something far more complicated than just a civil war. The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade and bombing campaign has prompted a response from Iran, causing what many consider to be a proxy war between the two invested powers. The Shia-Sunni divide runs deep, especially between the Saudis and Iranians and the crisis in Yemen gives both an opportunity to damage the other. The situation is similar, although not entirely, to the Vietnam war, with a civil war occurring and two powerful countries, i.e. the US and USSR, involving themselves to ensure the side they support controls the country whilst also damaging the other.
But, despite the fact that all sides of the conflict are reported to have violated human rights and committed war crimes there is hope. On the 6th of this month peace talks between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and Houthi rebels began in Sweden with many hopeful something good will come of them. The meeting itself isn’t expected to generate an immediate breakthrough but may set the scene for small gains such as opening a port or airstrip to allow aid and food into the country. These small steps may lead to massive gains and eventually the serious possibility of a ceasefire and even peace in the country.