Credit: Saif Albadni via Unsplash

International Spotlight: Yemen

By Lauren Lilley

A shattering New Year…

In Scotland, at New Year, we have the bells. In Yemen, there are only the bells of war, starvation, and unfulfilled promises.

Despite a civil and proxy war that has ravaged Yemen for the last decade, the UK cut aid to the country by 60% in the most recent curtailing of international aid by the government. After this came to light, the Tories then admitted they had done no impact assessment despite their acknowledgement that over 50,000 people in Yemen are experiencing famine and the rest of the population on the brink of it.

Yemen has been completely and utterly devastated by the conflict that has been raging since 2011, but the Yemeni conflict is not your typical civil war. Foreign involvement hugely informs the current situation in Yemen, whether that be through conflict or aid. This aid is particularly important given the sheer amount of the country that has become an active war zone; the government is battling Houthi rebels as well as growing terrorist groups and many of the major cities and transport hubs are contested. The resulting conflict has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, with an estimated 25% of those deaths being children. Yet the ideological differences involved in this Sunni Shia conflict with the added battle of extremism mean there is no end in sight. 

The escalation of the conflict can really be measured from 2015, when Saudi Arabia and their Gulf Nation coalition began intervening in Yemen, both officially and covertly. Yet despite their intervention, there were still multiple agreements broken and ceasefires not honoured. This is in part due to the role Iran has forged for itself in the conflict; they continue to put their unwavering support behind Houthi rebel groups and as such have been heavily involved in the fight. However, the perception and discussion of the war overwhelmingly as a proxy religious war between Saudi and Iran has meant that there has been a lack of awareness around the horrific and frequently occurring human rights violations in the country. So, in typical fashion, the UK government has continued to sell arms to Saudi, and ignored any human rights violations they’re perpetrating with said arms too. 

The long and short of it is, international aid saves lives. It was the only barrier between millions of Yemenis and a horrific death, as outlined by UN Secretary General António Guterres, yet the UN and UK have failed to deliver this life saving aid. Instead, the UK have enabled Saudi Arabia and their blockade which has handicapped charitable and NGO aid in Yemen and then compounded the problem by cutting their own aid donations. There is unlikely to ever be any accountability for the UK as the international community seems to collectively ignore what is happening in Yemen, or purposefully misconstrue it and keep it out of headline news. Ultimately, the UK and UN have once again failed Yemen.

All of these issues have been significantly worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. With no government to provide social welfare or impose curfews and stay at home orders, coronavirus has spread rapidly in Yemen. Low literacy and education rates compounded by the constant instability in the country and Islamic extremism that has inhibited female education means there is also limited understanding of how the virus works and spreads.

Yemen has also become a haven from human traffickers, and this has only made the spread of the virus more untraceable and uncontrollable. The limited hospitals that are left standing after 10 years of conflict are overwhelmed and unequipped anyway, but the cutting of aid means they have even less access to supplies and even more starving patients to treat.

We spend a lot of time in the New Year discussing new beginnings and resolutions, yet where are these for the people of Yemen? There are a whole generation of Yemenis who have known nothing but war; for them a resolution is a broken UN promise, and a new beginning is when a ceasefire is broken and fighting resumes. Where is Yemen’s 2022 reset?


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