The forgotten war: A breakdown of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen

A fast-mounting death toll, hospitals teetering on the brink of collapse, relatives unable to bid farewell to their loved ones. For most of us, such images are reserved for TV coverage of war or other kinds of catastrophic disasters. For Yemenis in Sanaa and Aden, however, this has become the tragic and sobering reality. The country is in the midst of a humanitarian disaster, yet after five years of perennial fighting, it has been dubbed “the forgotten war.” But how did Yemen even get to this point?

The civil war in Yemen erupted in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, when Yemenis rose up against the incumbent President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the country since 1990. Saudi-Arabia intervened along with several other Arab states, forced Saleh out and put Vice President Hadi in charge of the new government. But, due to a debilitated economy, Yemenis continued to suffer – and protests reignited in 2014. The Houthis (a Zaidi Shi’ite Muslim minority group) took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and in March 2015, a coalition of states (led by Saudi Arabia) intervened with the aim of restoring Hadi to power.

The beginning of inexorable air strikes

Over the course of five years, the conflict began to engulf the entire country. What started off as „Saudi-led coalition vs. Houthi forces“, very quickly evolved into a proxy war, with several Western powers providing weapons, as well as logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition – and other countries, whose interests push in the opposite direction, supporting the Houthis for geopolitical and power political reasons.

On top of the 112,000 people who are said to have died as a direct result of the war, more than 160.000 Yemeni people have borne the brunt of heavy rain and floodings (which occurred in July and August this year) and are now in desperate need of immediate assistance. Torrential rains have flushed away homes and inflicted significant damage on hospitals. Sanitation infrastructure is also affected: Water contamination has led to cholera, malaria and dengue fever cases spiralling upwards.

COVID-19 starts to wreak havoc across the war-torn country

The spread of Covid-19 is now putting an even bigger strain on Yemen’s already fractured health system: Clean water and sanitation are in short supply and only fifty percent of health facilities are functioning. Hospitals lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus and its consequences. Many health workers don’t even receive salaries and 10.2 million children don’t have access to healthcare.

Outcry from international humanitarian organisations has become deafening as the fate of millions of Yemenis is undoubtedly bleak: The UN has warned that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.”

It is safe to say that, regardless of how the situation unfolds in the months ahead, Yemeni civilians will once again shoulder an overwhelming part of the burden. 

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