Read, Debate: Engage.

What’s happening in Yemen?

February 02, 2024
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Yemen, #Israel, #Gaza, #Houthi rebels, #humanitarian crisis
located:Yemen
by:Nour Ghantous
The country and its ongoing civil war have been dominating headlines again. Here's why.

The Yemen crisis, a protracted conflict marred by political upheaval and humanitarian catastrophe, continues to inflict profound suffering on its people. 

The civil war in Yemen erupted in 2014 when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized control of the capital, Sana’a, triggering a conflict with the Sunni government. The rebels' demands for political reforms and lower fuel prices heightened tensions, culminating in President Hadi's resignation in 2015.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies intervened militarily, supporting Hadi and launching airstrikes against the Houthis with US backing.

Despite initial gains by the Houthis, Saudi-led forces pushed them back, stabilising frontlines. However, efforts to broker peace faltered, and the conflict evolved into a regional proxy struggle, exacerbated by Iran's involvement, a Saudi-led naval blockade and British and American military intervention. 

Internal divisions further complicated matters, with former President Saleh initially aligning with the Houthis before breaking away and subsequently being killed by them. Additionally, the emergence of the Southern Transitional Council challenged Hadi's government, leading to a Saudi-brokered deal in 2019.

The toll on civilians has been devastating, with millions facing food insecurity, famine, and disease outbreaks. Human rights abuses have been reported on all sides, further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Economic fragmentation and currency depreciation worsened the situation, sparking protests in government-controlled areas.

In parallel, the US conducted counterterrorism operations against groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which primarily operates from south and central Yemen, employing airstrikes and special forces. These efforts intensified in 2017, resulting in notable incidents, including a raid that led to civilian casualties.

In April 2022, President Hadi resigned again, paving the way for a new presidential council aimed at broader representation, currently headed by Rashad al-Alimi, a Saudi-backed figure.

The Yemeni civil war remains a complex and devastating conflict, characterised by regional rivalries, international intervention, humanitarian crises, and ongoing security challenges, with no clear resolution in sight.

Despite Yemen's many struggles, it has largely been neglected by the press until recently, when the Houthi rebels began making waves in the Red Sea.

What are the Houthis doing in the Red Sea?

Fighting between Houthi rebels and the Saudi coalition that backs Yemen’s internationally recognised government largely subsided in 2023. However, the Houthis continued their maritime aggression, targeting ships traversing the Red Sea in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

Despite hopes for dialogue between the Houthis, Saudi Arabia and Iranian-Saudi normalisation, progress has been minimal, hindered by sporadic outbreaks of violence. Additionally, the Southern Transitional Council's pursuit of an independent southern Yemeni state and the resurgence of AQAP have further complicated peace efforts.

Against the backdrop of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis escalated tensions by launching drones and missiles towards Israel, although most were intercepted. 

Furthermore, on 19 November, the Houthis seized a commercial vessel in the Red Sea, subsequently conducting attacks on over two dozen other ships using drones, missiles and speedboats. The Houthis claim to target vessels affiliated with Israel and say they will continue to do so until a ceasefire is enacted in the region.

The Houthis would only halt their attacks if Israel’s "crimes in Gaza stop and food, medicines and fuel are allowed to reach its besieged population," Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi official, said.

Efforts to counter Houthi aggression have seen US-led naval forces stopping numerous attacks. However, the heightened risks in the region have prompted major shipping companies to seek alternative routes, bypassing the Red Sea in favour of much longer passages around southern Africa. 

This shift has significant implications, considering that nearly 15 per cent of global seaborne trade typically transits through the Red Sea.

"Even if America succeeds in mobilising the entire world, our military operations will not stop … no matter the sacrifices it costs us," said al-Bukhaiti. 

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has not improved; 21.6 million people, including 11 million children, need aid, and more than 4.5 million are displaced.

Why are the UK and the US bombing Yemen?

The United States and the United Kingdom conducted joint airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen on 11 January and 22 January. The US has also undertaken additional strikes.

President Joe Biden cited these strikes as a "direct response" to the attacks on ships in the Red Sea, which posed a threat to international trade and navigation freedom. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak justified the action as "necessary and proportionate" to safeguard global shipping.

In a separate incident on 11 January, US Navy Seals intercepted a ship off the coast of Somalia carrying Iranian-made weapons destined for the Houthis. The US military reported that two Navy Seals were missing and presumed dead as a result of this operation.

The UK and US response to the Houthi attacks has been contentious; while some organisations, like NATO, have deemed them appropriate and necessary retaliatory strikes, others, such as the United  Nations, have called on these countries not to escalate the volatile situation further.

The impact of conflict and hunger in Yemen 

Yemen's food crisis directly results from the ongoing conflict, plunging the nation into dire circumstances. Since 2015, the economy has shrunk by half, pushing over 80 per cent of Yemenis below the poverty line. With incomes dwindling and prices soaring, basic food items have become out of reach for many.

Due to the conflict, Yemen, traditionally reliant on commercial imports to meet its food needs, faces major disruptions in these vital supply chains. This disruption has led to severe food shortages nationwide, even in areas far from the frontlines.

Families are left with no choice but to resort to desperate measures to stave off hunger. Many are forced to ration food, cutting down on meals or skipping them altogether. Parents prioritise feeding their children, often sacrificing their meals.

Additionally, some families are compelled to take on debt or sell off assets to buy food. In contrast, others send family members to beg for food, deepening the cycle of poverty and desperation.

What is being done to help people in Yemen?

Yemen's humanitarian needs are immense, but over 140 aid organisations, including the UN World Food Programme, are dedicated to providing assistance. This aid encompasses essential provisions such as food, water, shelter and medicine.

The UN World Food Programme is pivotal in delivering emergency and long-term aid to Yemenis. Beyond direct assistance, it provides crucial logistical support, coordinating and transporting aid for numerous partner organisations.

In southern Yemen, the UN World Food Programme distributes emergency food boxes to those in need. However, due to funding constraints, general food distributions in northern Yemen have been temporarily halted

Nevertheless, the organisation continues to offer vital support, including nutritional assistance for pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five. It provides food vouchers and cash to stimulate the local economy.

Image by Ian Simmonds.

Article written by:
6CD29B1A-B356-4274-B875-1585B2211EEE
Nour Ghantous
Associate Editor
Yemen
Embed from Getty Images
Despite initial gains by the Houthis, Saudi-led forces pushed them back, stabilising frontlines. However, efforts to broker peace faltered, and the conflict evolved into a regional proxy struggle, exacerbated by Iran's involvement, a Saudi-led naval blockade and British and American military intervention.
Embed from Getty Images
The toll on civilians has been devastating, with millions facing food insecurity, famine, and disease outbreaks.
Embed from Getty Images
The Houthis continue their maritime aggression, targeting ships traversing the Red Sea in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
.
.