Tuesday,28 March, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Tuesday,28 March, 2017
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Yemen on the brink

After two years of bombing by the Saudi-led Arab Coalition of Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, the country stands on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, writes Haitham Nouri

Yemen on the brink
Yemen on the brink

It has been nearly two years since the Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi to the capital Sanaa after Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh took it over in late 2014.

Today, the humanitarian conditions in the country are catastrophic, and the conflict on the ground and the Saudi air strikes on the Houthi-Saleh positions have killed an estimated 7,270 people and injured more than 38,000 others, many of them seriously.

According to a report issued in August by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Raad Al-Hussein, the parties to the conflict in Yemen have violated humanitarian and human rights laws.

The report cited examples of ceasefire breaches and the targeting of civilians or civilian facilities such as schools, hospitals or funerals. The Saudi-led Coalition was responsible for the deaths of 140 people when its planes bombed a funeral in Sanaa.

Three million people have fled their homes out of fear of a conflict that has not subsided since the Saudi-led Coalition began the bombing on 26 March 2015 under the name Operation Decisive Storm, according to a report by UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien on 31 October 2016.

Although more than two million Yemenis have managed to survive with little assistance, they were without permanent shelter until October 2016. This figure is six times greater than that recorded in 2014. Since March 2015, more than 180,000 people have fled the country to Oman (51,000), Saudi Arabia (40,000), Djibouti (more than 36,000), Somalia (34,000), Ethiopia (13,000) and Sudan (7,000).

Some 1.7 million to two million refugees in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea need humanitarian relief, according to both the internationally recognised Yemeni government in Aden and the one formed by the Houthis and Saleh in Sanaa.

“Seven million people in Yemen do not know where their next meal is coming from,” according to O’Brien’s report. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the population of Yemen in 2016 was just over 27 million people, including 14 million suffering from malnutrition.

Meanwhile, 19.4 million do not have clean water or sanitation. According to OCHA, 18.8 million Yemenis, or 69 per cent of the population, need some type of humanitarian relief or protection, including 10.3 million “in dire and immediate need” of assistance.

According to the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, half the population of Yemen are under the age of 18, and 1,339 have been killed in the 21 months since the start of the war. Meanwhile 3.3 million children, including 460,000 under the age of five, are suffering from severe malnutrition, a 63 per cent increase over the 2015 figure.

The war has stopped almost all imports of basic goods to a country that imports 90 per cent of its needs. The main reason is the siege imposed by the Arab Coalition out of concerns that Iranian weapons could reach the Houthi rebels.

Those leading the war against the Houthis and Saleh have declared they will not allow Yemen to become an Iranian base against the Arab Gulf countries, and Riyadh and its allies have accused Tehran of arming the Houthis.

Observers close to the Gulf countries believe that Iran already controls four Arab capitals, namely Baghdad since the overthrow of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Damascus as a result of Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Beirut through the influence of the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah and Sanaa through Iranian support for the Houthi rebels.

The Houthis and Saleh control north Yemen, where the Shia-affiliated Zaidis make up the majority of the population, while Hadi’s forces with the support of Saudi Arabia control the rest of the country.

According to a USAID report published in December, the areas that have been most afflicted by the present conflict include the Red Sea coast, especially the city of Al-Hudayda which is controlled by the Houthis and Saleh supporters.

The report says that in 2016, 5.1 million people in Yemen were receiving some form of humanitarian aid, revealing a tragedy that the international community has thus far been unable to resolve, despite statements by O’Brien to the UN Security Council that the UN and the international relief agencies could do more if conditions were calmer.

No ceasefire in Yemen has lasted longer than a few days, however, and the Yemenis have barely been able to catch their breath before the conflict starts again and the relief agencies have been unable to reach them.

According to USAID, the largest donor of aid to Yemeni civilians is the UAE, also the second largest force in the Arab Coalition, which has given some $454 million. It is followed by the US at $327 million, Saudi Arabia $192 million and the UK at $169 million.

The European Union follows with $86 million, Germany with $60 million, Japan with $47.5 million, Kuwait at $27 million, Sweden at $26 million and finally Canada at $20 million.

According to 2017 estimates, it is expected that the number of people in need of humanitarian relief will increase and basic services will deteriorate further as air strikes and the ground war continue in the absence of a political solution on the horizon.

Today, the ancient Arabia felix, or “Happy Yemen,” the historic name of a country that in ancient times enjoyed great wealth compared to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, is the poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa region.

For more than three decades under Saleh, who ruled North Yemen after 1978 and a united Yemen from the early 1990s, the country suffered from instability, mismanagement, tribal influence and sectarianism. There was almost a complete lack of infrastructure until the early 1980s as well as widespread unemployment among young people.

The country also saw several conflicts in the last decade under Saleh’s rule. In the central regions, Al-Qaeda is believed to have made alliances with several tribes in Al-Marib, making it one of the terrorist group’s strongest branches under the name of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In the north of the country, Saleh waged six rounds of war (2006-2010) against the Houthis who are Zaidi Shias and are believed to constitute about half of the population. The Saudi air force assisted the government in the last round of war.

In Aden, the capital of the former South Yemen, Saleh fought against the separatist Southern Movement after the civil war in 1994, with his government claiming that it had succeeded in maintaining the country’s unity by so doing.

All these conflicts have exhausted the people of Yemen, and they have led to the current stand-off between the Houthi-Saleh forces in the north and the forces loyal to President Hadi in south Yemen.

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