If you had the similar public school education I did then you probably didn’t learn enough about current events. I appreciate the education I did get, which is more than a lot of people. But for years, discussions about middle eastern peace and the war overseas went completely over my head. I never watched the news, I was uninformed and ignorant. Only now as an adult—now that I can vote and I feel it is my personal responsibility to at least know what is going on—this is definitely at the top of the list of things that keep me up at night. Yemen is on the verge of complete famine, they are enduring the world's worst humanitarian crisis. It has been destroyed by an ongoing war, most of its citizens are starving, the economy has collapsed, and the United States is not only complacent but we are responsible for funding this war.
According to a Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness article, “In 2014, the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, supported by ex-president Saleh and his political network, seized the capital and deposed the short lived government. In a state now on the verge of collapse, a Sunni coalition (led by Saudi Arabia) set off a military intervention of massive airstrikes in March 2015, on a claim of national security and the restoration of the United Nations-recognized Haidi government” (Ripoll Gallardo et al., 2016, p. 701). Though this information is dated, having been written in 2016, it’s still valuable. I think it is important to know how everything started, considering things have only gotten progressively worse.
The war began with Saudi Arabia and Iran fighting for territory. Saudi Arabia was on the side of the Yemeni government and Iran the side of the Houthi rebels who overthrew it. Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen for years trying to get them to leave, but the ones truly suffering are the thousands of Yemeni citizens dead and the millions starving.
From In Yemen: the challenge of delivering aid in an active conflict zone, Ann Marie Kimball & Aisha Jumaan said “Yemen is suffering the largest man-made humanitarian disaster in modern history (OCHA, n.d.a). Thirty million Yemenis have been under consistent bombardment and ground warfare since the 2015 intervention by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners… At the close of 2018, 133 organisations were working in Yemen: 10 United Nations organisations, 31 International NGOs and 92 National NGOs (OCHA, 2018). However, delivery of aid and materials to those in need has been extremely challenging (Alterman, 2018). It is also of note that the largest contributing countries supporting humanitarian funding are coalition members providing the majority of arms to the conflict (Zarocostas, 2019)” (Kimball & Jumaan, 2020, p. 66). In short, the countries who claim they’re helping the Yemeni are actually causing them significant harm.
According to the U.S. Relations With Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is “holding of the world’s second largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location all play a role in the long-standing bilateral relationship between the Kingdom and the United States” (U.S. Relations With Saudi Arabia, 2021). I would like to point out that The U.S is not the only financial supporter of the war: the U.K, Canada, China, France, Spain and a few others do too (according to a CNN report by Angela Dewan). However, “Saudi Arabia is the United States’ largest foreign military sales (FMS) customer, with more than $100 billion in active FMS cases” (Dewan, 2018). They may not be the only financial supporter, but they’re one of the biggest.
Obviously there are enormous domestic political issues at play in the middle east. A war doesn’t just stop overnight, it’s just the casualties have never existed to this magnitude before. The whole world is aware of this tragedy. The crisis has been recognized by the U.N, and there are various charities and organizations providing aid in Yemen now like UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders. But the countries funding the aid are the same ones selling weapons, making these efforts counterproductive. Yes, some things are out of our hands. Just last week, “Saudi Arabia announced a proposal for a cease-fire with the Houthi rebels, including a plan allowing food and fuel imports through Yemen’s main port and renewing talks between the rebels and the Yemeni government. The Houthis rejected the proposal.” ((War in Yemen, 2021) There are an estimated 24 million people in need of assistance, 100 000 people killed since the beginning of the war, 4 million displaced people, and of course 8 million people on the verge of famine. This is a crisis that is in urgent need of being brought to an end, yet the US (like many) remains complicit in its persistence.
Finally, I would like to say it is very easy to become desensitized to these things. But politics, war, displacement and hunger are more than school assignments or sad commercials of skinny kids with “the arms of the angels” playing in the background. It is easy to remain ignorant in a society where minimizing the number of people suffering isn’t prioritized above minimizing our economy suffering. Especially when it feels as though there’s nothing to be done: it’s out of our hands. But we are, in fact, very lucky in that we can change things on a local level. We can do our best to hold our government accountable with our vote and donate when we can. There is so much left to be done by us citizens.
I would love to say that things are looking up for the Yemeni, but without serious humanitarian aid and intervention, without the US and other countries putting aside their need of oil for the lives of millions, and without Iran and Saudi Arabia coming to some sort of agreement: nothing will change. In the meantime, a lot that us individuals do can help. You can donate to the World Food Program, Unicef, or any other reputable organization supplying aid to Yemen. You can also stay informed and spread awareness of this tragedy and, of course, if you live in a country that is selling arms to Saudi Arabia: hold your government accountable for the damage they are contributing. Use your vote, use your voice as a citizen, and of course pay attention to any Yemeni reaching out. I cannot put into words how serious this is. Yemen is dying. It is every individual's responsibility to not stand by and watch it happen. Keep these travesties in your thoughts and act accordingly until real change occurs.
1. Ripoll Gallardo, A., Burkle, F. M., Ragazzoni, L., & Della Corte, F. (2016). Yemen’s Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis: Implications for International Humanitarian Law, the Geneva Convention, and the Future of Global Health Security. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 10(5), 701–703. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306066035_Yemen’s_Unprecedented_Humanitarian_Crisis_Implications_for_International_Humanitarian_Law_the_Geneva_Convention_and_the_Future_of_Global_Health_Security
2. Kimball, A. M., & Jumaan, A. (2020). Yemen: the challenge of delivering aid in an active conflict zone. Global Security: Health, Science and Policy, 5(1), 65–70. https://doi.org/10.1080/23779497.2020.1814162
3. Dewan, A. (2018, November 23). These are the Countries Still Selling Arms to Saudi Arabia. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/22/middleeast/arms-exports-saudi-arabia-intl/index.html
4. War in Yemen. (2021, March 30). Global Conflict Tracker. https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/war-yemen