Yemen is a far cry away from the ‘Arabia Felix’ or the ‘Happy Land’ it was once referred to due it’s fertile lands.
Located on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is now the poorest country in that region. Since 2004, the country has been embroiled in a deadly conflict between a group of Shiite Muslim rebels known as the Houthis and the Yemen government. Whilst there has been some conflict since 2004, the last few years have been particularly devastating following the launch of a military campaign by a coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, in 2015.
This conflict has led to a one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises with no serious indication of peace in the foreseeable future. Whilst the coalition of Arab states tries to push out the Houthis, who at the time the military campaign was launched had taken control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city and was attempting to do the same in the country’s second largest city, Aden, civilians have unfortunately become collateral damage and are left to bear the brunt of the war.
Three quarters of a population of an estimated 29 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance or protection. As in most war-torn countries, civilians are at constant risk of death as they face bombings, kidnapping, rape, torture and particularly in the case of Yemen, starvation and disease. Save the Children has reported that an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five has died from starvation in Yemen since the start of the war in 2015, while a further 14 million people are risk of starvation due to famine. Saudi Arabia’s tactics against the Houthis have contributed significantly to this famine as they have set up blockades at the border which they share with Yemen, therefore restricting the nations access to necessities such as, food and aid. Again, even though the blockade is intended to weaken their opponents, the Saudi’s actions are felt deeper within the civilian population.
Unfortunately, it seems that Saudi Arabia’s efforts to loosen the Houthis’ grip and restore the Yemen government has caused far more harm than good as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has estimated that the coalition of Arab states air attacks are accountable for nearly two thirds of civilian deaths and displacement. This is not to say that the Houthis are blameless. The High Commissioner of Human Rights also accuses the Houthis of being the cause of mass civilian fatalities mainly due to their siege of Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz.
As well as dealing with crippling hunger, Yemen has also been battling a cholera epidemic, with more than one million estimated cases reported since April 2017. The blockades have naturally made the outbreak much more difficult as medical supplies are limited and those infected are unable to obtain treatment.
Since the war began, Britain has offered humanitarian assistance and is said to have given more than £570million to Yemen in aid. However, Britain, like the US, are complicit in the war as they have backed the Arab coalition, assisting in many ways including, the provision of arms and intelligence.
In the US, the Senate has voted to withdraw its military from Yemen, giving President Trump 30 days to remove all troops. However, despite pressure from the upper chamber, the US administration are in opposition to the decision and wants to continue their support for the Saudi-led coalition, a position confirmed by a State Department official.
All hope for peace is not lost. For the first time in two years both sides have engaged in negotiations. Since 6th December, Sweden has been hosting the UN mediated peace talks where the warring sides have met face-to-face. On Tuesday, the delegates were able to agree to a prisoner swap that would see the release of over 16,000 detainees, including children.