On October 23rd, Mark Lowcock, the United Nation’s under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Coordinator (OACH) gave a briefing about the famine in Yemen. He described it as “much bigger than anything any professional have seen in their life”. Today, 8 million people are dependent on emergency food aid and this figure will anytime soon reach 14 million, in other words, half of Yemenis. Such a statement is alarming as in the past 20 years, only two countries have been declared by UN as going through a famine, Somalia in 2011 and South-Sudan last Year.
8 million people are dependent on emergency food aid
Yemen is, in fact, facing an “economic famine”. People tend to think famine is simply a lack of food explains Alex de Waal, author of Mass Starvation, “but in Yemen, it’s about a war on the economy”. Civilians are dying because they have no food but mostly because they have no money to buy food, oil or medicines. Indeed, Yemen’s current economic system is collapsing. The bombed country has no solid infrastructure to maintain its economy’s survival. In addition, the public sector employees haven’t been paid for months, sometimes years and about a third of the population depends on the public sector. Thus, a third of the population is unemployed. Finally, the Yemeni rial (YER) is subject to both inflation and depreciation and has lost 75% of its value since 2015.
A third of the population is unemployed
It’s hard to know how many people have lost their lives in this war. The figure of 10,000 deaths is redundant. However, this figure comes from a UN official speaking only of civilians in early 2017. The numbers of deaths are in fact completely underestimated. Andrea Carboni, who leads Yemen for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex estimates the number of people killed to be 56,000 at this time in their research. But in reality, it is certainly even more. The highest figures speak about 100,000 deaths between the start of the Saudi-led intervention in March 2015 and the end of 2018.
How did Yemen end up here? The very beginning of the war dates back to the Arab Spring. At that time, in 2011, the population of the Middle East are demonstrating against oppressive regimes and a low standard of living. Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh, head of state since the 1990’s was overthrown and replaced by his vice-president Abdrabbuh Mansar Hadi. The transition promised by Hadi fails as the country later faces high corruption and unemployment.
In the north of the country, the Houthis an insurgent Shia group has been in tension with the government since 2004. The group feels marginalized and is asking for political representation and economic aids. In September 2014, the Houthis take control of Yemen’s Capital Sanaa with the help of Ali Abdullah Saleh the former president. Both parties see, in the post Arab Spring instability, an opportunity to fulfil their own interests. When the Capital is taken Abdrabbuh Mansar Hadi escapes for help to Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis, an insurgent Shia group, has been in tension with the government since 2004
On top of its internal tensions, Yemen finds itself in the middle of the Iran/Saudi-Arabia cold war, both fighting for the control over the Middle East. The Yemen war is a proxy war. Saudi-Arabia accused Iran of secretly supporting the Houthis. Fearing that its historical political and religious foe will gain control of a border-sharing country Saudi-Arabia decided to close its border with Yemen and then took the lead of a coalition. It gathers Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal to fight against the Houthis. The Saudi-Arabia led coalition bombed Yemen for the first time in March 2015. The United States is backing up their historical ally Saudi Arabia through arms, aerial refuelling and intelligence sharing. They are also making their own strikes against Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) expansion in Yemen. AQAP, which is considered one of the most dangerous branches of Al-Qaeda.
The Yemen war is a proxy war.
The bombing between the Houthis, the US and the Saudi-Arabia led coalition has destroyed the country’s stability and with it the civilians’ access to shelter, education, food, oil, sanitation and clean water. The OCHA estimates that more than 3 million Yemenis have fled from their home to elsewhere in the country, 280,000 have sought asylum in other countries and 2,5 million children are out of school. The country is also facing the worst Cholera crisis in history, killing hitherto 2000 Yemenis.
The bombing between the Houthis, the US and the Saudi-Arabia led coalition has destroyed the country’s stability
A lot of aid is already being delivered by many different International NGO’s and charities such as Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders and Save the Children. But the already active groups are struggling to deliver their supplies. First, because the principal port of the Red Sea, Hodeida, is in hand of the Houthis and most aid and commercial shipments of food and fuel are unloaded there. Moreover, to deny Houthis their supplies the port has been partially blocked by the Saudi Arabian led-coalition and fighting have blocked access to the rest of the country. Finally, Aid workers in Yemen are facing obstacles including delayed visas, retracted work permits and interference in their work.
In such a chaos, what future remains for the country and its population? With Khashoggi’s death – a Washington Post journalist murdered in the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Turkey at the beginning of October – the international community has finally questioned other Saudi’s action such as the War in Yemen. Yemen’s population had to wait 3 years and the death of a famous journalist to be heard. On October 30th, James Mattis, US defence secretary has asked the Saudis to accept a truce, “thirty days from now, we want to see everybody around a peace table, based on a ceasefire”.
With the announcement of a ceasefire, there is a glimpse of Hope for the Yemeni population, but it’s far from enough to repair the damage that has been done to what is now from far, the Arab’s poorest country.