Yemen famine

Is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis on the brink of no return?

Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr.

— 6 minute read — By Maggie Gannon

After over five years of war and conflict, Yemen has unsurprisingly suffered heavily this year with the outbreak of coronavirus. Already laying claim to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, the country’s crumbling medical infrastructure and sheer volume of poverty puts almost its entire population at a higher risk of being susceptible to the virus.

Prior to the most recent war, Yemen was already the poorest nation in the Arab world, with its desert climates, poor infrastructure, and lack of stable authority leaving 28 million people severely impoverished. A country that is built on such poor foundations ultimately is now another victim to a pandemic which has engulfed some of the richest nations on the planet. Despite never being at the forefront of mainstream media, Yemen’s nightmare continues to grow day upon day: in mid-July, a Saudi-led coalition killed at least nine citizens, six of whom were children.

When looking back at the history of Yemen, the threat of terrorism began in the early 2000s with seventeen U.S. personnel being killed in the USS Cole of Aden. This was shortly followed a few years later by tensions escalating between the US and Yemeni governments. The U.S. began to demand that President Saleh must take action in order to tackle these terrorist threats deemed to be caused by a new branch of Al Qaeda, but instead the government led a series of attacks against fighters known as Houthis. This subsequently led to further attacks being seen in the U.S. in 2008, as well as a drone strike in 2011, killing the leader of the AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). This specific drone strike still takes a huge proportion of criticism today for fuelling the start of attacks that have no mercy for innocent civilians who are simply caught up in the damage of war.

When looking into more recent years, the conflict can be simplified as fighting on two fronts – a six-year war against Houthi rebels in the north, and clashes against Emirati-backed forces for control of Aden. Although, many smaller conflicts still overlap and entangle themselves amongst bigger religious and ideology battles. However, no matter whether or not these battles ever come to a definitive end, the real victims remain the Yemeni people enduring this crisis. One of the most recent tragedies occurring in July, has only been since reported at the end of this month, consisting of an airstrike taking place on a family home in northern Yemen.  The Mujali family, who already had so little, had their home reduced to remains and ashes and were left heartbroken mourning for the nine people who fell victim to this attack. Those who were not immediately killed by the blast had to endure an extremely long journey to the nearest hospital in Sana’a. 

Since this attack and numerous others, many UK civilians – some activists and some politicians – have continuously called for the country to withdraw from Saudi arms sales after evidence from the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) suggested that five individual attacks can be linked back to British authorities or companies. Labour MP Claudia Webbe suggested that “British companies should not be allowed to profit from the suffering of the people of Yemen”; alas, the UK government resumed sales in July justifying that any breaches of law were singular incidents that could be dealt with.

Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr.

This mid-July attack sits as a reminder of one of the biggest examples of the famine and health crisis Yemen falls under, and, as predicted by UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), the numbers of those who face food insecurity in the south of Yemen will rise from 25 percent to 40 percent by the end of this year. UNICEF have described how the continued conflict, flooding, economic instability – and now coronavirus – have “created a perfect storm”, which may result in previous hunger prevention efforts being diminished.

Sadly, this is only one latest example of how a crumbling medical infrastructure, exiled government, and continued conflict, has left the people of Yemen in dire straits. The WFP have also released the latest integrated food security phase classification as showing signs of reaching phase 4 – “emergency” – at the end of this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has majorly affected food availability and supply which in turn has left wage-earning opportunities low. The United Nations had to severely cut its lifesaving food distributions over the period of April–August this year, due to a lack of funding, predicting that over three-quarters of Yemen’s population are in desperate need of aid. On top of this, the lack of basic hygiene and clean sanitation leaves a ground for bacteria to become rife.  During the height of Yemen’s epidemic, there was only one functioning hospital – in the city of Aden, home to a million people with little to none virus related restrictions in place such as social distancing. This one hospital lacked basic personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and mechanical ventilators. In addition to this, there is a firm belief amongst civilians that the virus does not exist, with many in hospital fearing they have been kidnapped and are being held hostage whilst health workers inject a deadly infection. This state of hysteria many patients are being found in does not really come as a surprise as statistics regarding the virus are unattainable, and the current Minister of Health has been unable to answer many basic questions from press briefings by western news outlets.It is also worth mentioning that the Yemeni government is only seen as a working organisation by those mostly in the western world, the people of Yemen believe it has no functionality so even if COVID-19 measures were to be expressed it is highly doubtable that they would be implemented.

Seventy percent of the country’s commercial goods come from a port city call Hodeidah on the Red Sea which is controlled by the coalition. This has led to the Houthi’s closing the airport for UN and humanitarian flights which Oxfam have said has led to two hundred metric tonnes of aid not being able to get to those most in need of it. Yemen’s crisis is simply one that covers all aspect of daily life, with fuel shortages leading to an increase in prices, and a lack of electricity to supply basic needs, which is severely affecting their healthcare systems as hospitals become yet another problem for sick individuals instead of a safe haven.

Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid on Flickr.

This pandemic has made an already crumbling nation susceptible to even worse circumstances, and the internationally recognised government has failed to provide proper guidance and statistics to the Yemeni people leaving them even more vulnerable. Before the pandemic hit around 2 million children were out of education, and this has now stretched to nearly 8 million children unable to access education. This domino effect starting with poor foundations of a country leading to worsened living conditions is one that is sadly on the brink of no return, as this country not only cries out for funding but spirals out of control. It is clear that Yemen is in an extremely fragile state and the recent unprecedented times have not only made things worse for many, but simply unliveable.