Despite what social media and news hubs may imply; the worst humanitarian crisis in the world isn’t the situation in Ukraine. Amongst countries now found on the low human development index, the title for “worst humanitarian crisis” belongs to the periled country of Yemen.
The Middle Eastern nation-state is going through the worst famine that the world has experienced in many decades, as warned by the United Nations in November 2020.
The world’s most dire food security crisis impacts approximately 2/3rds of the whole Yemeni population who require urgent food assistance – meaning out of a population of nearly 30 million people, over 20 million people fall under this danger bracket.
According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2020, 10 million of these people were already at high risk of famine before things kept escalating (based off the events and data collected from the malnourished region in 2019).
Unlike most European and western countries, Yemen does not have an ageing population (due to the baby boom period after the Second World War), but instead has a very young population, with a median age of just 20.2 years old. This younger generation is taking the full brunt of the humanitarian impacts that the impoverished country has been facing over the last 7 years.
According to UNICEF, from the 21 million Yemenis in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, 11 million of them are children. From these numbers, tens of thousands have tragically starved to the death because of the never-ending famine.
On top of the collapse of their food distribution system, multiple NGOs, IGOs, and reputable sources worldwide are also reporting that Yemen is also experiencing cholera outbreaks, is suffering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding, health infrastructure breakdown, an ongoing fuel crisis, and the root of all these nationwide issues – the Yemeni civil war.
“Civilians suffer from destroyed critical infrastructure, lack of fuel, lack of basic services, abusive local security forces, a weak state, and fragmented governance.”– Human Rights Watch World Report 2021
Divulging further into things, since the start of the multilateral Yemeni civil war in late 2014, the Middle Eastern state has witnessed vast and detrimental economic challenges that have affected a wide majority of locals’ everyday lives. In an environment where any sort of macroeconomic stability is on a prolonged hiatus; economic warfare on monetary policies, currency collapse in distinct government-controlled areas in Yemen’s south, and restrictions on workers in Saudi Arabia have been identified by the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) as the 3 main reasons to why basic food prices have risen to unaffordable levels for the poverty-stricken Yemeni population. Findings have shown that basic food prices across the board have at least doubled throughout the country.
This financial nightmare is among the many reasons why Yemen is undoubtedly the poorest country present in the Arab world. With a poverty rate of 81% in 2014 (data found from before the civil war officially began), the already-dire economic situation has gotten multilaterally worse since.
Yemeni civilians cannot sustain their health or livelihoods as they wish they could. Only half of the country’s health facilities are deemed to be functioning normally due to infrastructural damage and military priorities, yet the healthcare system is asked to withstand numerous cholera outbreaks, and deal with the effects of the COVID-19 virus while gritting against the fighting and warfare. The widespread cholera outbreaks in Yemen are especially tumultuous and worrisome. The continued destruction over the weakened and war-torn infrastructure means that development to counter this issue at the moment cannot be sustained by the external environment. The people of Yemen, and other involved regions, e.g., Saudi Arabia and the USA, will continue to struggle to prevent and cure cases of cholera until stability within the region is reinstated to allow the nation’s healing process to commence.
Numerous reports deriving from reputable sources and sources, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), have unanimously and separately concluded that the first step to conquering the humanitarian struggles in Yemen is to achieve peace within the region – specifically through diplomatic means.
The protracted issues and conflict alike have been prolonged due to the complex nature of the dire situation, and due to the introduction/inclusion of different actors taking part in one way or another. Players in this ordeal include the Houthi armed movement, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government, the Southern movement (also known as “Hirak”), and the militant group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). International actors who have gotten themselves involved within Yemen also include the likings of the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, as well as regional actors such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.
The mix of so many different vocal actors and players involved in the Yemeni predicament makes diplomatic progress very complicated to achieve. As parties continue to keep pointing fingers at each other, the spread of multiple localized ceasefires has not resulted in any actual peace developments in the grand scheme of things. These miniature explanations to the Yemeni protraction are backed by a lack of (successful) peace agreements. In reference, the 2018 Stockholm Agreement seems to be the only successful peace agreement that has been respected, as it ended the offensive coalition towards the northern city of Hodeidah. Sadly, it could not inspire further wider peace agreements.
Similarly, the Riyadh Agreement tells another telling description of how most diplomatic progress truly transpires amongst all the different actors involved. The diplomatic agreement between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) – while ending major fighting in the city of Aden (IRG’s capital) – it has not extinguished the serious tensions between the two groups.
Through all these obstacles and the severity of what is at stake, it is a global priority for global IGOs like the United Nations to push for peace to come through in the impoverished and politically divided Middle Eastern nation-state, despite the extreme complexities surrounding the sticky situation.
Despite a multitude of ongoing health risks becoming increasingly fatal to the Yemeni population, the war-torn nation cannot handle its citizens’ health or limit these outbreaks and injuries through the constant instability brought about during a war.
Since the same concept applies for Yemen’s other major problems, e.g., inflation and limited access to basic foods, peace within the region is first required to ensure the stable environment necessary to then tackle everything else. For instance, the COVID-19 virus will be easier to contain once the displacement of millions is halted through the end of the seemingly endless civil war. Similarly, the end of national conflict would simultaneously provide an environment necessary to cultivate some economic stability required to rebuild lost infrastructure.
Amongst the complex multitude of issues ravaging the populous landscape of Yemen, one that has not yet been mentioned is the internal displacement effects that war has on its victims. From the total population of 30 million Yemenis, over 4 million people have been internally displaced from their homes as of January 2022, with up to 1.6 million displaced Yemeni citizens currently sheltering across 2200 different temporary hosting sites (according to statistics accumulated by the UN Refugee Agency).
Another one of the United Nations’ subsidiaries, the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA), links a connection between the displacement of Yemeni citizens to safety and women and children. Out of the 4 million internally displaced citizens mentioned, a whopping 73% are women and children. This tells the external world that while men have stayed put to fight in the endless conflict, they have ordered the women and children of their families to seek refuge and retain hope to seek a better future once this prolonged conflict (hopefully) comes to a final halt. This traditional idea is backed by the found data that around 30% of all households are led by women, which is an extravagantly high proportion for a Muslim nation.
To conclude, the comprehensive conflict and compilation of issues in Yemen is anything but a simple and standard solution to solve. However, studies and findings by experts and respected groups and authorities all point towards one starting point to commence the domino effect that revives the state of Yemen back to prosperity.
That starting point is the end of the Yemeni civil war, and this can only have a chance to resolve itself if all parties involved come to a compromise of sorts, set their differences aside (instead of letting their differences separate them further as is ongoing concurrently), and through some seemingly impossible way, solve the impossible task of deciding who shall govern the nation state of Yemen. However, once this assignment of governance has been decided at the end of this ongoing conflict, stability can only be sustained if all other parties accept the result instead of continuing with further attacks, in an almost philanthropic act of submission.
- Robinson, K., 2022. Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering. [online] Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/yemen-crisis>.
- Human Rights Watch. 2022. World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Yemen. [online] Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/yemen>.
- Human Rights Watch. 2022. World Report 2021: Rights Trends in Yemen. [online] Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/yemen>.
- Bureau of Counterterrorism. 2022. Country Reports on Terrorism 2018. [online] Available at: <https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Country-Reports on-Terrorism-2018-FINAL.pdf#page=158>.
- International Rescue Committee (IRC). 2022. Crisis in Yemen: Protracted conflict pushes Yemenis deeper into need. [online] Available at: <https://www.rescue.org/article/crisis yemen-protracted-conflict-pushes-yemenis-deeper-need>.
- Vuylsteke, S., 2022. Challenging the Narratives: Is Yemen Really the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World? – Sana’a Center For Strategic Studies. [online] Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. Available at: <https://sanaacenter.org/reports/humanitarian aid/15352>.
- Staller, A. and Al-Faqeeh, I., 2022. UNHCR Yemen Operational Update. [online] Reliefweb.int. Available at: <https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNHCR%20Yemen%20Operati onal%20Update%20-%2013%20January%202022.pdf>.
- Pedro Conceição, 2020. The next frontier – Human development and the Anthropocene. Human Development Report 2020. [online] New York: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Available at: <http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr_2020_overview_english.pdf>. • United Nations Population Fund. 2022. Yemen: The world’s largest humanitarian crisis. [online] Available at: <https://www.unfpa.org/yemen>.
- Unric.org. 2021. Yemen in danger of the world´s worst famine in decades. [online] Available at: <https://unric.org/en/yemen-in-danger-of-the-worlds-worst-famine-in decades/>.
- Unicef.org. 2022. Yemen crisis. [online] Available at: <https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis>.
- UNDP. 2022. Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations Development Programme. [online] Available at: <https://www.undp.org/sustainable-development goals?utm_source=EN&utm_medium=GSR&utm_content=US_UNDP_PaidSearch_Brand _English&utm_campaign=CENTRAL&c_src=CENTRAL&c_src2=GSR&gclid=Cj0KCQiAgP6P BhDmARIsAPWMq6nsG65HS2QEM8Zh_SY-GsHGWqqgdkivZrtbqN2CeFVKbiYad4kkC4aAl1CEALw_wcB>.
- Sajid, S. and Gomo, T., 2022. Yemen. [online] Reports.unocha.org. Available at: <https://reports.unocha.org/en/country/yemen>.
- Sami, M., 2019. Yemen Policy Report # 3 – The Civil War in Yemen: Understanding the Actors | BIC-RHR. [online] Bic-rhr.com. Available at: <https://www.bic rhr.com/research/yemen-policy-report-3-civil-war-yemen-understanding-actors>.
 Pedro Conceição, 2020. The next frontier – Human development and the Anthropocene. Human Development Report 2020. [online] New York: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Available at: <http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/hdr_2020_overview_english.pdf>.
 Unric.org. 2021. Yemen in danger of the world´s worst famine in decades. [online] Available at: <https://unric.org/en/yemen-in-danger-of-the-worlds-worst-famine-in-decades/>.
 Human Rights Watch. 2022. World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Yemen. [online] Available at: <https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/yemen>.
 Unicef.org. 2022. Yemen crisis. [online] Available at: <https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis>.
 Robinson, op. cit., Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering.
 Sajid, S. and Gomo, T., op. cit., Yemen.
 Robinson, op. cit., Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering.
 International Rescue Committee (IRC). 2022. Crisis in Yemen: Protracted conflict pushes Yemenis deeper into need. [online] Available at: <https://www.rescue.org/article/crisis-yemen-protracted-conflict-pushes-yemenis deeper need>.
 Staller, A. and Al-Faqeeh, I., 2022. UNHCR Yemen Operational Update. [online] Reliefweb.int. Available at: <https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNHCR%20Yemen%20Operational%20Update%20- %2013%20January%202022.pdf>.
Written by: Kyle Patrick Camilleri
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