As the civil war in Yemen entered its fourth year, the humanitarian crisis in the country only worsened in 2017 with soaring levels of hunger and malnutrition, an unprecedented spread of cholera, and a widespread campaign of airstrikes on civilian communities. This led to Yemen scoring as the third-most worsened country in the 2018 Fragile States Index (FSI), and continued a long-term worsening trend that has seen Yemen rank as the fourth-most worsened country in the world over the past decade of the FSI, along with Libya, Syria, and Mali. The country has now worsened to become the third-most fragile state in the world.
Yemen’s rapid worsening on the FSI has been primarily a result of the country’s civil war and its resultant humanitarian disaster. Most recently in 2017, Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces and Houthi rebel groups used any means necessary to cripple their opponents, and in turn, the Yemeni people. Fractures between the country’s northern and southern regions resurfaced as President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi expelled southern leaders including Cabinet Minister Hani bin Brek and the governor of Aden, Aydaroos al-Zubaida, who were seen as supporters of southern succession efforts. Days later, tens of thousands protested and the Southern Transitional Council was formed, marking the beginning of formal efforts by the South to split from northern-based governance for the first time since unification in 1990. As local leadership crumbles, the fate of the Yemeni people is increasingly in the hands of regional powers, namely Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The extreme weight of demographic pressures in 2017 has been greatly worsened by strains on the local economy such as economic sanctions and blockades against humanitarian aid. In February, the UN approved an extension of the arms and commercial sanctions on the country, hoping to minimize militarization of rebel forces. However, this has also continued to harm those dependent on imported goods and to affect the affordability of domestic products. Prior to the war, 90% of Yemen’s food was imported; since then, food prices had doubled by the end of 2017. Many families were left with only humanitarian aid as a means of survival. However, on November 6, Saudi Arabia instituted strict air, sea, and land blockades in response to the November 4 missile attack on Riyadh by Houthi forces. The blockade has served to create serious challenges and hardship for the Yemeni people — for example, after the institution of the blockade, the price of fuel spiked 60% overnight. Further, the UN reported in a joint statement by the UN and other prominent humanitarian organizations that millions more could die if aid could not be delivered. Officials condemned the blockade and called for a reopening of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, which is the entry point for 80% of aid into the country including medicine necessary to address the emerging threat of diphtheria and the continued outbreak of cholera.
If the parties on all sides of the Yemen Civil War continue to act without consideration of civilian communities, the crisis in Yemen will only worsen in the years to come and no military, territorial, or ideological victory will outweigh the loss of life that will inevitably follow. As the country is torn apart, and as regional powers exploit the divisions for strategic advantage, long-suffering Yemeni civilians will continue to be the ultimate victims.
1. Lowy Institute. URL at: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/spectre-divided-yemen
2. BBC. URL at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42023625
3. ReliefWeb. URL at: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Statement%20by%20the%20humanitarian% 20community%20in%20Yemen_Final_original.pdf