Yemen's Humanitarian Crisis
an article by Rene Watanabe
Dear Asian Youth,
Yemen is suffering. Through the Instagram stories you peruse throughout the day, you might have witnessed reposts of pictures portraying children barely alive—crying children with bloated bellies and spindly limbs. According to the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis: in a country with 29 million people, more than 24 million people are in the need of humanitarian assistance, 16 million people wake up hungry every day, and 3.65 million people were driven from their home. UNICEF revealed that 18 million people are in urgent need of water, sanitation, and hygiene assistance, and five years of war have shattered the country’s healthcare system, leaving it difficult to cope with a pandemic.
The Yemen Crisis has been going on since 2015—so why is it being brought up now? The answer is, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Yemen’s situation has only gotten worse because of the broken healthcare system, the absence of clear authority, and the already severe outbreak of cholera.
The Health Minister of Yemen says he won’t publish the numbers of deaths because it will have a “heavy and terrifying toll on people’s psychological health.” The fact that they are driving such high death rates into obscurity is nonsense. The World Health Organization believes that there is a significant undercount of the total number of people affected by the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the public confused. Some Health Ministry employees have been pleading with senior officials to make the true numbers public so that emergency medical workers and residents understand the gravity of the situation.
The Yemen Crisis may feel like a foreign issue to you—the world is already overwhelmed by the pandemic, social movements, and a constant bombardment of information on social media. But Yemen has it the worst. The crisis has been overlooked for the past several years, and with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the country’s population is about to go extinct.
Before the wave of the coronavirus hit, people in Yemen were already dying from disease and hunger, specifically because of cholera. The majority of the outbreaks were in Houthi-governed areas, where they failed to manage garbage and sewage. As the coronavirus pandemic takes over the globe, Yemen is now facing an emergency within an emergency.
How did this all happen? First, let’s talk about the huge war that Yemen is facing right now.
After the dictator of Yemen was forced to hand power to another president, Hadi in 2011, Hadi failed to address problems such as massive unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.
As a result, the Houthis, Northern Yemen's Shia Muslim minority, took advantage of the new president's weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighboring areas and eventually taking over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. Iran, which is close to Yemen, has openly supported Houthi’s efforts because Iran is a Shia minority. Overwhelmed by the political disillusionment, President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia expressed three war aims: it wanted to restore the government of President Hadi, protect its Southern border, and contain the growing influence of Iran. Two major rivals: Saudi Arabia and Iran, fight on the grounds of Yemen.
So many people in positions of power are allowing weapons to be sent to Yemen for the conflict to continue. The United States has been supporting Saudi Arabia militarily since World War II. Since then, the United States has been selling weapons such as cluster bombs and f-15 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, making up the vast bulk of what the Saudi air force is currently using as it bombs Yemen. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. issued a no-strike list to have Saudis avoid bombing civilian infrastructure, and yet the Saudis ignored it, continuing to bomb schools and hospitals. In 2020, the Trump Administration announced that they are considered much of its humanitarian assistance in response to restrictions imposed on aid by Iranian-linked Houthi rebels, according to the Washington Post.
Poverty in Yemen holds one of the highest rates in the Arab world. The dire economic conditions have worsened the already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the country, but poverty has more consequences than just an unstable economy—in fact, it is often linked to violence, terrorism, epidemic diseases, mass migrations, and environmental disasters. An impoverished country will lack in basic healthcare infrastructure, exacerbating and allowing diseases to spread at a rapid pace, and are most vulnerable when it comes to climate change, because the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts force mass migrations from their homes, separate families and threaten livelihoods.
As the war goes on, Saudi Arabia is indiscriminately bombing Yemen, destroying houses, hospitals, schools, and farms, causing mass civilian casualties. The Yemenis have been forcibly displaced from their destroyed homes. Human rights violations, including what could count as war crimes, are committed throughout the country. By the end of 2019, it is estimated that over 233,000 Yemenis were killed as a result of the war and the humanitarian crisis.
Similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis shall not be a moment, but a movement.
United Nations officials warned that without more donations, nearly 400 hospitals and health care centers will have to reduce services when the coronavirus pandemic surges in Yemen. Poverty is confronted over and over again only when another Instagram post depicting another atrocity comes to light. What can you do beyond reposting an Instagram post? There are multiple paths of action: educating yourself and others by watching informative youtube videos, reading articles, following non-profit organizations, listening to podcasts, and so much more.
What kind of person do you want to be? We could be the generation that eradicates extreme poverty, but it all starts with our actions. Staying educated and knowledgeable about these issues is so important when having conversations with your family and friends. It can feel overwhelming, as it was for me, especially during a global pandemic. But by volunteering your time to absorb knowledge and information, you can contribute to a positive change.
Eventually, doctors will find a cure for the coronavirus. But for millions of people in Yemen, they will have to continue to wait until they escape from extreme poverty. We can retain a sense of normalcy during this pandemic, but for the people in Yemen, their “normal” is daily bombings, hungry children, and the constant fear of death.
How can you help? Below are resources you can use to sign petitions, donate to organizations, and educate yourself about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
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