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29 May

YEMEN: WHERE HUMANITY IS A CASUALTY

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Yemen: Where Humanity Is A Casualty

By : Chander Malhotra

Background

Yemen, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has been a crucible of violence ever since the current conflict started in the wake of the Arab Spring. The country  came into being when North and South Yemen united in 1990.

The present situation has its roots in the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh who served as the first President of Yemen, from the time of unification in 1990, till his resignation in February 2012. Saleh left office following an understanding between the Yemeni government and opposition groups. In consequence, Saleh’s vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi became the President.

However, the transition did not bring peace. Hadi had to deal with a host of problems ranging from issues related to gross poverty, a fissiparous group in the south and an insurgency in the north.He tried his best to bring about peace in the country and ward off threats both from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Houthi militants in the north,who had been waging an insurgency  for many years.

The Houthis  who are members of Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and had rebelled against Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of Hadi’s inability to tackle issues firmly  and took  control of some areas in the North. Many ordinary Yemenis (Sunnis included), who were unhappy with the Government, supported the Houthis and in late 2014 and early 2015, the rebels took over Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. Hadi escaped to Aden, where he maintained that he remains Yemen’s president and proclaimed Aden the country’s temporary capital. In March 2015 Hadi fled as rebel forces closed in on the city of Aden and moved onto Riyadh.The Houthi coup  gave  rise to the present crisis and conflict which progressed to where it has today.

The Conflictand Consequences Thereof

Iran supported the Shia Houthis and thisled to the intervention by Gulf CooperationCouncil armed forces (also referred to as the Sunni-Arab coalition) led by Saudi Arabia in Mar 2015. This resulted in a situation of a proxy warbetween Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabiaas part of the regional power struggle.

Operation Decisive Storm,the military intervention by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, was launched with the aim of restoring the legitimate government of President Hadi. The intervention initially consisted of a bombing campaign on Houthi rebels but later also saw a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s coalition partners areMorocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Academi (a private security company in the US). Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia have made their  facilities available. The Saudi-led coalition attacked the positions of the Houthi militia and loyalists of the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia,Mohammed bin Salman, who had been appointed the  Minister of Defence in Jan 2015, felt that  his political stock would  rise at home as his air force, equipped with advanced US and other western weapon systems,would be able to execute a rapid victory over the Houthis. However, it was not to be,andthe cycle of violence has continued unabated ever since.

Iran states that it politically backs the Houthis. However, although it denies involvement, it has been training the Houthis and supplying ballistic missiles to them, which the Houthis are frequently launching against targets in Saudi Arabia. Alongside ground incursions on Yemen’s north-west border with Saudi Arabia, these missiles are the Houthis military retaliation against the more than 16,000 coalition air strikes which have caused massive destruction in Yemen, besides the air and naval blockade responsible for the disastrous humanitarian situation.

International Participation in the Conflict

The United States has provided intelligence and logistical support including aerial refuelling. The US has also speeded up the sale of weapons to coalition states. The US and Britain have deployed their military personnel in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen. Satellite imagery suggests that French war material, if not French personnel, is being used in the Saudi led war in Yemen. Germany has imposed an embargo on arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and amid concerns over Riyadh’s role in the Yemen war. This has drawn flak from the arms industry and from France and Britain, who say that this will adversely impact joint projects.

Humanitarian Crisis

The war has had a  continual worsening effect on Yemen’s humanitarian situation, which is now being called a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’. Human rights groups have squarely blamed the Saudi led military coalition for killing civilians and destroying health centres and other infrastructure with airstrikes.

A recent UN report shows that 14.3 million people are classified as being in dire need, with around 3.2 million requiring treatment for acute malnutrition; that includes two million children under-five, and more than one million pregnant and lactating women.

The report  highlights that more than 20 million people across the country are food insecure, half of them suffering extreme levels of hunger.The UN agency data shows that a total of 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation, and 19.7 million lack access to adequate healthcare. Poor sanitation and waterborne diseases, including cholera, left hundreds of thousands of people ill last year.Meanwhile, grain which could help feed millions, is still at risk of rotting in a key Red Sea storage facility because conditions are too unsafe to transport it.

During the past four years the conflict has left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN. Around 3.3 million people remain displaced, up from 2.2 million last year, including 685,000 people who fled fighting in Hudaydah and on the west coast, from June  2018 onwards.

Conclusion

Given the prevailing US- Iran standoff, the situation in Yemen  can greatly escalate tensions in the region. The ground situation in Yemen gives a window of opportunity to terrorist organisations like  Al Qaeda and ISIS to further their ends. The conflict could impact world’s oil shipments because Yemen is located on the eastern bank of Bab-el-Mandeb,the strait through which a large percentage of the world’s oil shipments pass.And last but not the least, the world must get together to end this humanitarian disaster.

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