Five million Yemeni children – and 8.4 million Yemenis in total – are facing famine as the country endures what the UN has described as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times.
Food items and medicine are 500% more expensive in some areas than they were before the civil war, and 18 million of the country’s 29 million citizens lack access to regular, nutritious meals. In some remote parts of the country families have resorted to eating leaves to survive, after distribution of aid to their areas was prevented by local authorities.
Why is there a war in Yemen?
Fighting broke out in 2014 between Houthi rebels and Yemen’s internationally-backed government. The Houthis took control of the country’s capital, Sana’a, and the government fled the country. In response, in 2015 a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign aiming to restore power to the government. The war has continued ever since, with international involvement on both sides. The country is currently controlled by four groups: Houthis (rebels), Ansar al-Sharia (Al-Qaeda), Islamic State and the Saudi coalition.
Due to the unstable nature of the environment it is very difficult to accurately record the number of people who have been killed and injured during the conflict. As of January 2017 the number of recorded civilian deaths stood at 10,000, with the number of wounded at 40,000. Now, almost 18 months later, those numbers are likely to be significantly higher.
As well as severely limiting access to food and food production, the fighting in Yemen has led to the destruction of crucial health and sanitation infrastructure, increasing the population’s vulnerability to disease – a rapidly-spreading cholera epidemic has so far affected more than a million people, including at least 600,000 children.
Millions of people have been displaced.
The UN estimates that over 3 million people have been displaced internally and over 280,00 have fled to claim asylum in other countries, such as Djibouti and Somalia.
In Djibouti, Markazi refugee camp is housing thousands of people who have escaped across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Djibouti is currently home to 27,000 displaced people, 4,000 of whom are Yemeni.
There is also a very active migration route in the opposite direction: thousands of people from Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea are regularly attempting to cross Yemen, via the Gulf of Aden, to reach more stable Gulf states or Europe. More than 100,000 people are expected to have attempted this route by the end of the year, with many of them dying on the way. Others are caught up in dangerous, violent smuggling operations or held in appalling conditions in makeshift detention camps on the edge of Yemen. The ongoing conflict means no security measures are in place to put a stop to this.
What’s going to happen next?
The US, UK and France supply most of the weaponry being used by the coalition through arms trade with the states involved, yet despite the high number of casualties they have not stopped supplies. It is expected that violence in the country will continue until some kind of agreement, backed by all members of the UN Security Council, is reached.
Last week the US called for talks to be arranged in Sweden by the UN, between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, as well as a 30-day ceasefire within the country. The rest of the Security Council has not yet backed this move. Until a ceasefire agreement is reached and peace is negotiated in the country people will continue to be displaced, ending up in appalling conditions in camps and on the streets across the Middle East and Europe.