Yemen became a fully unified modern state in 1990, and like much of the Middle East, it has faced occupations in various capacities by foreign entities, from the Ottomans to the Egyptians. When Yemen fell into chaos and civil war in 2014, law and fragility in the country became the sole focus.
Explaining the Civil War
The civil war, which is still ongoing, reflects years of religious insurgency, revolution and divide between the north and south of the country. Houthi Rebels took over the capital city of Sanaa in 2014 in the north and have been driving into southern provinces since 2015, with support from the Iranian Government. Although there has been no direct Iranian intervention, Tehran has been able to extend its influence within Yemen as a result of the civil war, leading to the international community seeing the conflict as a microcosm of Saudi-Iranian tension. In response to the usurpation of then-Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2015, a Saudi-led international coalition launched military operations in order to restore the Yemeni government, utilizing air strikes in the country’s northern territories.
From this period onwards life for Yemeni civilians hangs in the balance. Sieges and blockades from both sides of the war have resulted in mass loss of life, as territory and victory have trumped local communities, families and children. Yet this story which began in 2014 and is without end even today, has not rang loud enough in the international community: The civil war in Yemen still bears the name “The Forgotten War.”
U.N. estimates have calculated over 130,000 deaths as a result of shortages of food, health services and a lack of authority and law in the country, all the indirect causes of war. UNFPA has labeled this civilian struggle as “one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises,” yet it seems that NGOs have little effect on the ongoing situation. Sky’s Alex Crawford reported on the law and fragility in Yemen, showing civilians having to sell foreign aid goods to starving crowds, none of which can afford the illegally enforced prices.
In April 2022 the U.N. brokered a truce which allowed fuel imports into Houthi-held areas as well as the re-opening of some commercial flights from the capital’s airport. However, by October Houthi representatives refused U.N. proposals to extend the truce and march further towards more concrete peace talks.
With more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and millions of civilians displaced, things were -and are still- looking bleak. Law and fragility remain the key concern of international cohorts. Yet there are people on the ground addressing poverty-stricken communities in Yemen, with national charities taking the initiative to provide necessary funds to lift people’s living conditions.
In January 2023, Qatar Charity announced its plans to donate rapid financial assistance to vulnerable households in Yemen. Qatar Charity will provide the International Organization for Migration with $500,000 to help more than 10,000 poverty-stricken Yemenis.
Furthermore, there may be promising diplomatic events unfolding: In March 2023, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen their respective embassies within two months and re-establish diplomatic relations. This is good news. It remains to be seen how good, yet there is unquestionably renewed momentum on both sides, as the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, told at the U.N. Security Council Meeting: “We are currently witnessing renewed regional diplomatic momentum, as well as a step change in the scope and depth of the discussions.” Economic decline drives humanitarian disaster, if the renewed Saudi-Iranian detente can produce anything resembling peace, if talks between Saudis and Houthis could take place, then Yemen’s economy may react positively, allowing for NGOs like the U.N to operate safely and help Yemen’s poor, driving the change that the country so desperately needs.
The Yemeni Civil War has largely been neglected by the international community, blocking off NGOs’ routes to the country’s poor. The civil war is largely man-made, meaning the international community could do more to tackle poverty and food insecurity. The renewal of Iran-Saudi relations marks a decisive step in the restoration of law, as well as progress in tackling economic and political fragility in Yemen. Islamic Relief provides food aid to 2 million Yemenis a month, progress in Iran-Saudi relations will only boost the efficacy of organizations such as this.
– George Somper