Civil War in Yemen: The Crisis We Don’t Talk About

Civil war in Yemen seems to stay below the radar in the west. Find out more about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and how you can help, if possible.

The brutal civil war in Syria has captured a lot of attention over the past decade. As part of the Arab Spring uprisings, it garnered a lot of media attention in the west.

Syria’s high profile was understandable, given the brutality of the conflict, and the number of people it displaced and turned into refugees. More than three million Syrians lost their homes in a vicious civil war, which dashed hopes for a swift blooming of democracy in that country.

Strangely, although most of us have heard about the Syrian conflict, another very similar situation in the same region seems to escape our notice. The civil war in Yemen has displaced over 5 million people, turned 7 million more into refugees while leaving two million Yemeni children suffering from acute malnutrition. The death toll is over 100,000 people, not counting victims of famine.

Civil War in Yemen is the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

This week, UN chief Antonio Guterres reminded the world that the civil war in Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. War brings plagues in its wake, and, in Yemen’s case, the people face outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dengue fever.

Yemen has always been a third world country, which is ironic given one of the world’s richest oil reserves lies just across the Yemen-Saudi border. We could trace the conflict in Yemen back for at least half a century, but, like Syria, the trigger of the civil war in Yemen was the Arab Spring.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh had been in power for 33 years. He was a military dictator who had risen from poverty to the top through sheer audacity.

Most Strongmen in the Middle East Were Highly Corrupt

The Arab Spring erupted because most strongmen in the Middle East were highly corrupt. Saleh was in a class by himself in this regard. 

He siphoned off tens of billions of dollars for himself and his family. Readers should bear in mind that he was the leader of one of the world’s poorest countries.

Readers won’t be surprised to hear that he was an ally of Saddam Hussein, or that he turned a blind eye to Al Qaeda terrorists holed up in his country. During the uprisings, a bomb attack at his compound nearly killed Saleh.

Wealth in the Same League as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet

He struggled on for a while, but he lost the presidency. At that point, Saleh had amassed around $64 billion—putting him in the same league as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and ahead of the Koch Brothers in terms of net worth at that time.

While out of office, Saleh allied himself with the rebel Houthi movement, but then he betrayed them. In the end, a Houthi sniper fatally shot him in the head in December 2017, which seems like poetic justice.

Saleh’s successor was his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. By all accounts, Hadi was the wrong man at the wrong time.

Rebels Took Advantage of the Wrong Man at the Wrong Time

Houthi armed groups took advantage of this by driving out Yemeni government forces and seizing parts of the country. The Houthi occupation, known as the Ansar Allah, or Partisans of God, sparked the civil war in Yemen.

After the Houthi rebels captured Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa, in September 2014, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in a boat. The Saudi Kingdom supports Hadi as the rightful leader of Yemen.

Most of the international community also supports Hadi, at least until there’s a better solution like a free and fair election. He has set up a makeshift capital and provisional government in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, near the mouth of the Red Sea.

Power Divided into Two Poles – Saudi Arabia and Iran

Islam has two broad sects, the Sunnis and the Shia. The schism has divided political and military power in the Middle East into two poles—Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.

Saudi Arabia is Sunni. The Houthis are Shia. Starting in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has routinely carried out airstrikes against the Houthis. The Houthis have gotten hold of missiles and drones, which they use to launch attacks inside Saudi Arabia.

Because the Houthis are Shia, the Saudi Kingdom believes that Shia Iran is arming and funding them. Although both Iran and the Houthis vehemently deny this, it still seems like a pretty good guess. Conversely, since the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are Sunni, they have gotten involved in the conflict as well.

People of Yemen Entitled to Hold a Democratic Election

In theory, the civil war in Yemen should be easy to resolve. The people of Yemen are entitled to hold a democratic election and decide for themselves who they want as their leader.

The trouble is, the Houthis don’t believe in democracy. They’ve dissolved the presidency and the parliament and set up a set of three so-called “councils” as an “interim government.” We all know that, in politics, “interim” doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean.

Also, not everyone in Yemen supports the Houthis, and not all Yemenis are Shia. The Shia tend to live in the north, and Sunni groups live mainly in communities in the south. A lot of the Sunnis would like to form their own country in the south.

Civil Wars are the Worst Kinds of Armed Conflicts

Civil wars are the worst kinds of armed conflicts, not that there is a good kind. They always involve the worst loss of innocent life.

They also entail environmental devastation and widespread famine and disease. Illness and hunger are precisely what we’re seeing in Yemen today.

That’s why Secretary-General Guterres spoke out about the civil war in Yemen this week. He was speaking online as part of a fundraiser called a “virtual pledging conference” for Yemen, hosted by Saudi Arabia.

“Yemenis Hanging on by a Thread”

Justifiably, Guterres didn’t mince words. He told his web audience, “More than five years of conflict have left Yemenis hanging on by a thread, their economy in tatters, their institutions facing near-collapse.”

He went on to say, “Four people out of every five, 24 million people in all, need lifesaving aid in what remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.” We covered the outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dengue above.

Guterres reported to the conference that Hadi’s provisional capital city, Aden, also has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 in the world. The pandemic is coming at a time when the civil war in Yemen has cut the country’s health facilities in half.

Cut the Country’s Health Facilities in Half 

As Guterres described it, “That is just one sign of what lies ahead if we do not act now.” Understandably, the Civil war in Yemen has also destroyed the public’s faith in public institutions no matter who runs them.

“Public health measures are particularly challenging in a country where trust in the authorities is weak, and fifty percent of the population do not have access to clean water to wash their hands,” Guterres explained. 

“Ending the War is the Only Way to Address the Crises”

Although the meeting’s goal was to raise money, Guterres took the time to call out the real cause of the crisis. He said, “Ending the war is the only way to address the health, humanitarian and human development crises in Yemen.”

The UN called for a global ceasefire to deal with COVID-19 back in March. They singled out the warring parties in the civil war in Yemen in particular, because of the gruelling plight of ordinary Yemenis.

Countries pledged $1.35 billion in aid for Yemen relief. That sounds impressive until we realize that the budget needed is $2.41 billion.

Most Countries Never Live Up to the Pledges They Make

Also, these are pledges, just like a telethon. Most countries never live up to the commitments they make at these meetings.

Instead, they tell other member states what they want to hear, then later renege. As the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock bluntly reminded the attendees, “pledges will not save lives unless they are paid.”

Like everyone else observing the civil war in Yemen, the UN Relief Chief realizes that the root of the crisis is the institution of war itself.

“What More Than Five Years of War Have Done to Yemen”

“This is what more than five years of war have done to Yemen. The health system is in a state of collapse,” the coordinator tersely explained.

Most of us are feeling a financial pinch these days because of the quarantine. On the other hand, some of us, myself included, are still getting well paid while saving on things like gas, restaurant meals and entertainment.

A lot of us can make pledges ourselves to help victims of the civil war in Yemen. The donation site is here at UNICEF.

Charity Wouldn’t Be Necessary If We Put an End to War

Of course, our charity wouldn’t be necessary if we could put an end to war itself. We need to search for ways to resolve conflicts and ensure global security without the use of force.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Learn more:
Yemen: ‘Hanging on by a thread’
Secretary-General’s remarks to the Yemen Pledging Conference 
UN Peacekeeping – 8 Point Plan to Build “Beacon of Hope”
COVID-19 Ceasefire Ignored as Wars Rage On
South Sudan Peace Led by Women with Ox Ploughs


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