Eclipsed by the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, news on another Middle Eastern conflict is receiving far less attention than it should. The war in Yemen ceased to be just a civil war. It is driving the country into one of the most severe humanitarian crises in its history and one of the most urgent crisis we face today.
The war in Yemen has two sides:
One an ongoing conflict between two Yemeni factions that for the most part are split across the religious divided of Sunni (about 65%) and Shia (about 35%) Islam.
The second is that this conflict is also a proxy war between Saudi Arabiya and its allies and Iran.
The current conflict can be traced to the collapse of the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime in 2012, as part of the Arab Spring wave that took over the Middle East. Shortly after Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forced resignation, the Houthi minority could take over the capital by force and to establish their own rule. Historically the Houthi minority, which religiously practice a form of Shia, were considered disenfranchised in Yemeni politics and economy. Over the years since 2012, their grievances were the fuel for a series of conflicts between the Houthi tribes and the central government. Moreover, identifying the Houthi tribes as allies and as a potential geopolitical leverage over their bitter rival Saudi Arabiya, Iran has been providing the Houthis with arms, aid, and training.
The Houthi had success destabilized the state and brought Saudi intervention in 2015. In geopolitical terms, Yemen has been Saudi Arabiya’s strategic rear. As such the Saudis prefer maintaining a level of influence and control on the country. In 2015, Saudi led a coalition that included most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries: Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan into Yemen. An air campaign, naval blockade and boots on the ground pushed back the Houthis but could not force a victory. Yemen became an experimental battleground with private military contractors fighting on behalf of the coalition and secret torture prisons run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, took advantage of the chaos, taking control of some territories within the country.
Thus far the human cost of this conflict is estimated to be about 25,000 deaths, over 40,000 injured, and more than three million displaced people. About 14 million others now depend on aid to survive in a country of 25 million people. The Yemeni health system collapsed, so as the water and sanitation systems in many part of the country, leaving over 14 million people deprived of clean water. A World Health Organization (WHO) report indicates that there are about 200,000 people infected in cholera in the country. This infection spread rapidly across most regions doubling its reach in only two weeks, resulting in about 5,000 new infected people every day. This is the worst outbreak of cholera in the world today.
Those outcomes are beyond tragedy, and may have implications on the spread of radicalization as well. In a short period the Yemeni youth, which comprises most of the population, vacillated between the Arab Spring hope in 2011 to the despair of the current conflict. Losing hope in the future, many of these youths are more susceptible now to extremism, making them easier to recruit into fighting, as many are helpless and feel they have nothing to lose. The flourishing of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS are the precursors of the next stage of this tragedy.
The question we should ask is what can be done?
Many clever people suggest various solution on the political and military level. Unfortunately, we have little to do with aiding or advancing those suggestions. However, we can try helping the people directly. Civil society and UN affiliated aid organizations are the forefront of these type of efforts, with inoculation programs, sending food and experts to the region, and providing shelter and medicine for refugees. Below is a list of organizations that you can either donate, volunteer, or send goods to in order help the people in Yemen.