Yemen: Off the Map?
While the world is drowning in its issues, it is slowly forgetting what is going down in Yemen, a country in the middle east. For the past five years, Yemen has been engulfed in a devastating war, although the countries like US, UK and Saudi Arabia reached out for help to some extent, but still Yemen has been left to fend for itself, with no end to its issues in sight. Several nations have not even acknowledged the overabundant problems Yemen and approximately 29 million people are grappling with socio economic and political issues like misgovernance, corruption, famines, cholera epidemic and poverty, among others, and it is about time we provide them with what is due.
Yemen is the living example of riches to rags with being the land of prosperity to the poorest country in the Arab region at the moment. It was called Arabia Felix or Happy Arabia by the ancient Romans and was the mythical kingdom of riches and was one of the most powerful ones in the region. The history and journey of Yemen have been full of ups and downs. Starting with the 19th and the 20th century, in the year 1839 the British ruled around the port city of Aden and south-eastern Yemen. Being a predominantly Islamic region, in 1918, the Shias declared a kingdom in North Yemen and gained independence from the Ottoman empire. Facing a rebellion and a six-year civil war in the 1960s and being backed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it further led to the establishment of the Yemen Arab Republic and in 1967 as the British left, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was proclaimed that it was a client state of the Soviet Union. The North and the South had both friendly relations and also witnessed skirmishes. But there were differences between the two in terms of their foreign affairs and the internal state. While North Yemen developed good ties with the United States and Saudi Arabia, South Yemen, which was previously colonized by the British, had an excellent infrastructure. It had good relations with the Soviet up until the Cold War, after which the North and the South Yemen reached an agreement and unified in 1990, with President Ali Abdullah Saleh of North Yemen. Although, the merger did not bring an end to the crisis and issues with its Gulf neighbors. But, the long history of problems could not be resolved and led to a civil war in 1994 between those from the former South and North Yemen.
In the early 2000s, a few key events and new affairs took place. The population of Yemen mostly consisted of 40-45% of Zayidi Shia and the rest being Sunni Muslims. In the year 2000, a bombing in USS Cole in Aden where 17 US personnel were killed, brought international attention over the administered areas in Yemen that were possibly a terrorist base and network of the Al-Qaeda known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Around the same time, there was growing discontent among the poverty-stricken masses against President Saleh, and it was also the time when a Yemeni Zayidi Shia leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, and the fighters known as Houthis from the north were gaining traction and recognition by the people. Saleh tried to suppress this growing popularity among the masses for Houthiand later, he was assassinated by the military, but this was the tip of the iceberg. His enraged followers fought back, and long years of insurgency began, which continues to this day.
In 2010, after a cease-fire, the Yemeni government and the Houthis came to a consensus that finally ended a six-year war. The government’s conditions for the cease-fire included several problems that hampered the day to day functioning of the country. Even after this, turmoil and chaos persisted in the neighboring areas and Yemen was entangled in a civil war, among other issues like protests against corruption and economic hardships. In 2011-12, following an Arab uprising and due to immense pressure, even from the Vice President and the military chief, President Saleh resigned after being in power for over 33 years, owing to misgovernance and after an agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) de-escalation plan. He was succeeded by his Vice President Abdrabbuh al-Hadi, who is recognized as the President to this date. After this, Saleh left Yemen and was given immunity from his prosecution. In 2013, a UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar facilitated a Yemeni National Dialogue Conference (NDC), that called for participation from diverse groups and societies, which was deemed successful and was highly praised. The NDC also included several other provisions like a 50-50 representation to North and South, extension of Hadi’s term, a guarantee of freedom of religion, and a non-sectarian state. But, where NDC faltered was that it partitioned the country into regions without taking into account socio-economic and regional grievances, which were opposed.
In 2014, the Iranian backed Houthi rebels took over Sana’a after an alliance with Saleh, and Hadi had to move his capital to Aden, which broke the outcome of NDC. The Houthis took advantage of the new president by further taking control of the northern province of Saada and the neighboring regions. Hadi was held hostage by the Houthis and later fled to Saudi Arabia and left the Houthis in charge of the state in the year 2015. In 2017, President Saleh was himself assassinated by the Houthis.Then, an intervention by Saudi and other Sunni Arab states began at the request of President Hadi, which later only proved to increase the issues and escalated the military, political, and humanitarian crises. It resulted in the obstruction of providing aid to Yemen. This intervention was also supported by the US, UK, and France.
The complicated history of Yemen led to the commencement of a war that continues to this day and age. The catastrophe that has struck the country is horrifying. The aftermath of the crisis included not just Yemen and its internal conflicts, but also how some countries played a role in exacerbating the same. The United States continues to carry out operations targeting AQAP and militants and has tried to combat terrorism in Yemen, ever since the bombing in 2000. Since 2002, there have been over 200 hundred airstrikes to counter the Houthi rebels. A full-blown conflict-afflicted country, Yemen has suffered a lot, with bombings and ever increasing disputes between the involved groups.
The UAE was also actively involved in training, funding different armed groups in Yemen, but in 2019, they withdrew after receiving widespread criticism. With Saudi led forces and UAE separatists into a scuffle and then conflict between Houthis and the coalition groups in early 2020, the conflict does not seem to end. There have been several talks backed by the United Nations like the one in Sweden, which concluded in 2018 and resulted in fragile ceasefires in 2019 in Hodeidah It did not result in a prisoner exchange as it was earlier planned during the talks. But they reached an agreement for the same in February 2020, which was the first large scale exchange of the prisoners and those detained since 2015. In 2018, there was an attempt by the coalition to bring control of the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, with a port that was the lifeline of almost two-thirds of the population that was under the Houthis. The destruction of the port has been called the tipping point by the UN, after which it will be difficult to restrict the losses due to famine.
The country has always faced several challenges, including corruption, unemployment, and food insecurity, with Saudi Arabia trying to reclaim Sana’a. Although the heart was in the right place, the situation has only worsened in the country and for its people. A blockade of the ports by Saudi Arabia, which it said was to prevent Houthis from importing weapons, has resulted in inaccessibility to clean water, sanitation, hygiene and supply of food, with about one million people being internally displaced. Although, following international pressure, Saudi lifted the blockade but has tightened ship inspections, further slowing down imports. Yemen used to import 90% of the food but with the ports being shut, the goods cannot come into the country quickly. The prices of necessities have soared, and some goods have become about 120% more expensive than in 2015. More than half a million children are malnourished in the country, and in addition to that, according to reports in 2015, half of the Yemenis lived below the poverty line. There is also a cholera outbreak along with medicine shortages, human rights violations, and famines The United Nations has called it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It had been estimated that by the end of 2019, about 233,000 Yemenis were killed due to the ongoing situation and that about 16 million people went hungry every day. About 100 civilians were killed or injured every week in 2018. The year 2019 was declared the second most lethal year in the war. An issue between two different sides has impacted 24 million people, and that is what needs to be addressed.
It has also been pointed out that the Government of Yemen has harassed and detained activists, including the human rights activists. With the increasing number of detentions, disappearances of people, and it has been said that they have been held in secret prisons which would constitute war crimes. There has been a violation of rights, torture, and ill-treatment. Many have also faced unfair trials, that has resulted in wrongful judgments as well. The Houthis are known for using the judicial system to curb the freedom of expression and religion of the people by providing harsh penalties.
In 2020, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network that measures food security has released that over half of Yemen's population is facing a crisis and the worst food insecurity. A famine can also be declared by December 2020, which means at least 20% of the region's population would experience food shortages and death due to starvation. The UN has also claimed Yemen to be the neediest place on the Earth. Several reports from organizations like the World Food Program, the UN Children’s Fund, and the Food and Agriculture Organization have said that the number of people facing food insecurity is expected to increase from 2 million to 3.2 million in the country’s south. The Humanitarian Response Plan by the United Nations is facing a shortfall of about $2 billion. With all that is going on, people are just getting by and are immensely suffering.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the other nations are standing as a roadblock for the Houthis and wanting to revert to the time of Hadi's governance. Several countries and about 70 humanitarian organizations have tried to bring world attention to the Yemen crisis and are helping the country by providing aid in every possible manner but millions of people are still living in uncertainty and risk. The UNSC had imposed severe restrictions on Saleh in 2014, they established limits on the arms used by the Houthis, which is very often violated. In 2017, the Human Rights Commission requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a UN HRC mandated Group of Independent Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen that documents the violations and the abuses committed in the country but the government has continuously refused the entry for the same. The United Nations Security Council passed the first resolution in 2018, five years after the conflict first began by endorsing the Stockholm Agreement. WHO has also tried to bring relief to Yemen by providing more ventilators and supplies apart from the other supplies needed for the ongoing pandemic and has attempted to expand the number of isolation wards from 38 to 59.
The European Parliament in 2019 passed a resolution that called for the EU members to halt the weapon exports to Saudi Arabia, the country that is at the forefront of the issues in Yemen. .In Spite of the United States Congress attempting to end the US military support to the Saudi - UAE coalition in 2019, President Trump on the other hand vetoed it. The Court of Appeal in London ruled that the UK government failed to assess the Saudi coalition before issuing licenses for arms export to them, after which the UK also temporarily suspended the arms sale to evaluate the situation but ruled that there was no risk. There were also complaints filed under the universal jurisdiction in the US, UK, and Turkey to charge the officials of the Yemen crisis with war crimes and torture. But still, in March 2017, the UN’s appeal for $2.1bn (£1.7bn) for providing aid to the people in Yemen was only 7% funded.
A country at war and devastated by conflict in all sorts and forms. With its official president not in the country and no central government control, managing any outbreak like COVID-19 is going to be difficult. With approximately 1900 cases being reported officially (as of 14th August 2020), a country struck by a humanitarian crisis, malnutrition, and weak immune systems, those suffering from chronic illnesses could contract it easily. They are at higher risks, and with a war-torn country, the health systems have almost collapsed and have been wrecked. Another issue, pointed out is that the total number of cases is still unknown and it might prove to be a burden for the country even more. There is also a lack of public health awareness in the country and a need to spread the message of preventative measures. The United Nations has also said that due to the shortage in testing kits and PPE for the medics, and with more than 97 doctors dead, there is a greater looming health risk. A lack of transparency of data from the government also showcases that the number of cases might be even higher. It has also been pointed out that even before the pandemic, Yemen only had ten doctors for 10,000 people. With excessive violence, people find it risky to visit hospitals.
A scarce resource-based country with massive problems has made it increasingly difficult to be optimistic for the future. The primary source of income in Yemen has been oil, but only a few people have benefitted from the same. Even though the prices are increasing all across the world, the overall production has declined in the country. With rampant corruption and the plummeting economy, the future of the country remains ambiguous. It has ended up impacting sectors like education and health care. Although the youth looks at a better future, some areas in the country that are safer are looking towards better job opportunities. It comes to prove that only with proper security and assurance can the country focus on rebuilding itself, but the most crucial factor will be for the war to end and the groups to reconcile. The government should utilize its available resources for the betterment and the development of the country. It is crucial to provide quick and additional humanitarian financing along with that there should not be a reduction in the assistance provided, especially during times such as now. There should be pressure on removing and bringing an end to the conflict, improving the economy, and removing constraints on providing relief to the people. The Yemenis want peace; they are seeking any and every measure to go back to normalcy, but the rebels and the extremist groups are posing as a challenge. Yemen is not capable of providing for its people, and they are being denied their opportunities. Only if the world opens its eyes, in due time, children ten years later would not forget about a whole country, an Arabian Felix, an Arabian dream, a country that is now in agony and is calling for help. Let’s Listen for once!
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