10 Jul
  • By James Evans

Yemen’s “Forgotten War” and its Humanitarian Crisis

Since 2014, Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been locked in the grips of a bitter civil war which has drawn in many international powers. Labelled the “forgotten war” it has received far less media attention than other similar crisis. The fighting began in after the Houthis Shia rebels seized the capital city of Sanaa and President Hadi subsequently fled to Saudi Arabia as the Houthi movement backed by many normal Yemenis, including former President Saleh, attempted to seize control of the rest of the country.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s, mainly made up of Sunni Muslim countries launched an aerial and ground campaign against Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was spurred to action by the apparent connection of the Shia Houthi rebels with Iran (Shia), one of Saudis major rivals in the region. The campaign began on March 26, 2015, in support of the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and has been supported by the United States and the United Kingdom.


(Shiite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Yemeni capital Sana’aKhaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters)

The situation has quickly become a major humanitarian crisis described by the U.N.’s humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien as “largest humanitarian crisis in the world”. So far roughly  7,600 people have been killed and 42,000 injured since March 2015, the majority of them in air strikes by a Saudi-led multinational coalition that backs the president.

However, the issue of famine and the almost total collapse of infrastructure will no doubt contribute to far more death. Here are some figures which illustrate the scale of the crisis

  • 2 million people have been internally displaced.
  • 17 million people are classified as food insecure, with 6.8 million people severely food insecure.
  • 3.3 million children and pregnant or breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished
  • 180,000 people have managed to flee the country.
  • Yemen is now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world, with suspected cases exceeding 200,000 and the number increasing at an average of 5,000 a day.

The outbreak of cholera is made much worse by the fact that only 45% of health service facilities are working and imports of necessary medicines and supplies have almost frozen.

On 12 May 2017 at the Sab'een Hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, a child with severe diarrhoea or cholera receives treatment. Over 69,559 suspected cases of diarrhea have been reported so far across Yemen with 578 deaths as at 1 June 2017. In the last 24 hours alone, the numbers of suspected cholera cases have gone up from 65,300 to over 69,559 across Yemen. An average of 1100 children suffering from acute watery diarrhea are reporting to health facilities every day for the past two weeks across the war-torn country. In the last four weeks, the disease has claimed at least 578 lives of which nearly 40 per cent are children. The collapse of the water and sanitation system, barely functional hospitals and cash stripped economy means that 27.7 million Yemenis are staring at an unforgiving humanitarian catastrophe. There is a shortage of doctors and nursing staff, many of whom haven’t been paid for months as well as a shortage of medicines and IV fluid. UNICEF has flown in three aircrafts carrying over 41 tons of lifesaving supplies including medicines, oral rehydration salts, diarrhea disease kits, intravenous fluids that will treat over 50,000 patients. Over one million people across the country have been reached by disinfecting water tanker filling stations, chlorinating drinking water, disinfecting groundwater wells, cleaning water storage reservoirs at public and private locations, providing household water treatments and distributing hygiene consumables kits.

(A child with severe diarrhoea or cholera receives treatment at the Sab’een Hospital in Sana’a, Yemen. 12 May 2017. UNICEF)

According to Human Rights Watch, Dozens of coalition airstrikes indiscriminately or disproportionately killed and wounded thousands of civilians in violation of the laws of war. The coalition also used internationally banned cluster munitions. Many of the munitions used by the coalition were sold it and Saudi Arabia by the United States of America. Last October an air raid by Saudi Arabia hit a funeral reception killing an estimated 140 civilians, an act described by the United Nations as “outrageous” and a “war crime”, the munitions used were ones sold to Saudi by the United States.

Events like these have thrown into question the recent 110-billion-dollar deal made by Trump, to sell weapons and missiles to Saudi Arabia, who have apparently committed to a new program of rigorous military training given by the US to reduce civilian casualties. A recent resolution to stop the sale of more weapons to Saudi Arabia was only narrowly defeated in the Senate with many senators displaying a lack of confidence in Saudi Arabia’s accountability and seeming lack of concern for the civilian casualties it is causing. The country has a horrible record with human rights abuses of power and any form of expression. For example, being an Atheist has been categorised as being a terrorist in Saudi and is punishable by death.


(Smoke rises from the community hall where Saudi-led warplanes struck a funeral in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. 2016.Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Its record truly does beg the question why do western states such as the UK, France and America support its campaigns in Yemen or even support it at all? This is coupled with that fact that Saudi Arabia continues to spend billions of dollars spreading Wahhabism, its ultraconservative brand of Islam, something which is has been linked to inspiring many to join the cause of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups. Just last year Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency and Federal Intelligence Service accused Saudi and the other Gulf states of funding mosques, religious schools, hard-line preachers and conversion or “dawah” groups who spread the ideology. In particular, Saudi was linked to the Die Wahre Religion (DWR) group which is itself directly linked with over 140 Isis fighters.

This brutal war in Yemen will only undoubtedly create more extremism, hate and suffering. There are many aid organisations are working in Yemen but sadly they are reporting that the Saudi-led blockade, corruption and the danger of the crisis, in general, are all stopping much of the aid from reaching the people who need it most. International pressure needs to be urgently put on Saudi Arabia and the other coalition countries to at least stop its indiscriminate campaign and allow international aid to work properly otherwise the death count will start to grow exponentially.



Yemen bit by the world’s worst cholera outbreak as cases reach 200,000. UN News Centre. 24th June 2017.

Yemen in Crisis. 2016, Zachary Laub, Council on Foreign Relations.

Yemen, Human Rights Watch. 2017.

America will regret helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, June 2017 Medea Benjamin, The Guardian.