Yemen: War, famine and the brace for catastrophe

Destruction of Al-Thawra Hospital in Taiz due to shelling by Al-Houthi militia (Akram Al-Rasny / Adobe Stock)

Thousands have died, millions are under extreme circumstances of starvation, and children have paid the price of the conflict. Yemen now also faces a pandemic with a deteriorating health system.

A movement of pro-democracy protests identified as the Arab Spring spread across the Arab world in 2011, and Yemen was one of the first to experience the demand for change. Exacerbated by an already present rebellion, its next uprising was one of the most consequential. The protests resulted into an unforgiving civil war disturbed by foreign interference.

How did the war start?

In the Arab Spring, the existing rebellion forced Yemen’s long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over his reign to AbdRabbuh Mansour Hadi, his deputy. Although this changeover was alleged to bring stability to Yemen, President Hadi struggled to deal with various complications including corruption, militant attacks, food insecurity and the enduring allegiance of numerous military officers to the former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In 2014, the Houthi rebels took advantage over President Hadi’s weakness and seized the north of Saada and bordering areas. They later went on to take over Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city and capital. Following unsuccessful negotiations of demanding a new government and decreasing the prices of fuel, the rebels seized the presidential palace in January 2015. This led the government and President AbdRabbuh Mansour Hadi into exile.

Later in March that year, a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states supported by the US, UK and France launched a campaign of economic segregation and air strikes against the rebels. This deteriorated the conflict dramatically.

In August of 2015, coalition ground troops landed in Aden and drove the Houthis out of most of the city over the subsequent months. Officials estimated that it would last a few weeks. However, five years of military intervention have followed.

What has happened since?

The Houthis were not dislocated from north-western Yemen and Sana’a and have advanced to Abyan, Aden and Lahj following President Hadi’s forced resignation.

The local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group (IS) and Al-Qaeda militants have taken advantage of the chaos and maintained a siege on southern territories carrying out deadly attacks, particularly in Aden.

Ruined multi-storey buildings made of mud in the district of Marib, Yemen (Akram Al-Rasny / Adobe Stock)

In 2017, the launch of a ballistic missile towards Riyadh prompted the coalition to further constrict its blockage of Yemen. This led to significant surges in the prices of fuel and food, pushing more people into food insecurity and scarcity.

In 2018, the coalition launched an attack to capture the Houthis in Hudeidah, a port that is a primary lifeline for around two-thirds of Yemen’s population. It has been warned by the UN that the destruction would constitute a “tipping point” impossible to prevent enormous loss of life due to famine.

What happened to the civilians?

Across Yemen, civilians suffered from a lack of basic services, an overwhelming economic crisis, home displacements as well as broken governance, judicial, health and educational systems.

Child in the outdoors in al-Kudha camp in the west of Taiz city after being displaced by al-Houthi militia (Akram Al-Rasny / Adobe Stock)

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data, a highly regarded database project that tracks the conflict in real-time, the death toll in Yemen’s war is estimated to be 112,000 since it began. The figures included 12,000 deaths in each of the areas directly attacked (Sana’a, Aden, Ta’iz and Hodeidah). Over 25,000 deaths were reported in 2019, and a quarter of the civilians killed in air attacks were women and children.

According to the UN, the food insecurity has resulted in 24 million people – 80% of the population the desperate need for humanitarian protection and assistance to survive, making it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. 20 million need support securing food and 10 million of the Yemenis are only a step away from famine. Around 2 million children are acutely malnourished, and over 350,000 children under the age of five struggle to continue on living.

The hunger crisis has hit thousands of Yemeni children living in areas cut off from aid supplies. It was also estimated that around 85,000 children with severe malnutrition have died between April 2015 to October 2018.

With only half of Yemen’s medical facilities functioning, an estimated 20 million lack access to basic healthcare. Around 18 million do not have access to sustaining clean water or adequate sanitisation.

Since 2017, it is estimated that there have been over a million suspected cases of cholera and over 1,500 deaths related – making it the worst cholera outbreak recorded. Children under five represented 26% of the total suspected cases in 2019. Ill-equipped with a collapsing health system, the medics have struggled to combat the disease.

Read: Yemen’s children suffer the most as the five year war in Yemen rages on

Watch: Yemeni Children Victimized by ‘World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis’

Yemen on the brink of chaos

As of the 6th of June, the capital of Yemen has recorded 885 total cases of coronavirus, with 214 deaths.

Not only is Yemen facing the coronavirus outbreak, cholera and diphtheria but also other preventable diseases. Some infectious diseases are widespread, demonstrating the lack of clean water and necessary governmental services required for the overall health of the public. Thousands have died due to the deteriorating health system and more can follow.

Nursing civilians during a war meant that doctors worked with the fear that something irreversible and terminal could happen at any given moment. Private clinics cost more than a middle-class civilian could afford. In Yemen, if a person is dying, “they count the days and wait to die”, explained a Yemeni civilian to National Geographic.

Yemenis make frantic decisions to search for medical treatment. Some have taken risky cross-country travels to hospitals and others have spent their savings on private clinics, pushing them into more severe cases of poverty. With more than half of Yemen’s hospitals partially functioning or closed, frequently administrators must choose between buying fuel for generators or medical supplies. Other hospitals and malnutrition centres have shut as a result of deficits in funding and doctors’ concern about their safety from coronavirus.

It is predicted that Covid-19 associated deaths could exceed wartime fatalities. Incredibly short of testing equipment under a destroyed economy in a war-torn land means that Yemen needs international help now more than ever.


Send food, water & Aid –

Support and protect children – Save the Children

Emergency fund – Muslim Hands

Emergency fund – Muslim Aid

Send food – Unite for Humanity

Emergency appeal – Islamic Relief

Provide general basic donations – Just Giving

Help refugees in Yemen – UNRA

Emergency food aid – Kalsuma’s Yemen crisis appeal – emergency food aid

Provide aid, women’s protection and medical care –

Sign petitions:

Stop the war

Stop the flow of weapons to Yemen

Prevent starvation associated deaths

Prevent starvation

Prevent starvation 2  

Although it is great to sign petitions, the people of Yemen require immediate donations from you as their lives are currently on the line.

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