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This article is written by Joshita Mohanty.


Yemen went from being the heart of ancient Arab countries to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. For the past 5 years, Yemen has been torn apart due to ongoing civil war, air strikes and frequent bombings. Local groups and communities are fighting each other on the ground while the Saudi led coalition is striking from the above. Caught in the disastrous fight, are the millions of Yemenis, desperate in the need of help. Millions have been dislocated, thousands have been killed, Yemenis are struggling so hard to survive. The poorest country in the Arab region has become a violent playground for the international and the military powers. The United Nations has labelled Yemen to have the world’s worst humanitarian crisis going on, with no help and funding from the other countries. 80% of the Yemeni population, i.e. 24.1 million people require urgent humanitarian aid and over 3.65 million people have been dislocated.

Innocent civilians are battling against war, starvation, malnutrition, famine, deadly diseases all at the same time, the country is on the verge of getting wiped out from the world map. Over 2 million children under the age of 5 are starving to the bone, with no availability of food and water. Little children of Yemen go to sleep to the sound of guns and airstrikes in the street. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly, the already malnourished and impoverished country is facing another emergency which needs to be addressed soon. Yemen is on the verge of going extinct. The crisis is claiming the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. Yemen is suffering and the world is silent.

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The Yemen Civil War – How and Why (2015 – Present)

The first part of the war emerged during the Arab Uprisings in 2011. Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Yemeni politician was the first president of Yemen since 1990 until his resignation on 25th February 2012. The Yemen Civilians had been protesting a long time against the Saleh government. The main political groups amongst the protestors were the Shia rebel group, called the Houthis and the Southern Separatist. The Houthis are a Shia Muslim Minority from the northern Yemen called the Zaydis. The Houthis were at war against the Saleh government for years. The protestors wanted the Saleh government to come to an end due to the massive financial corruption, unemployment, political instability etc. Thus, Saleh was forced to hand over his presidential power.

On 24th February, a new government was introduced in Yemen where the presidential power was transferred to the hands of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was the former Vice President. This led to the start of the Hadi Government. Soon it was seen that the Hadi Government was unable to maintain order and there was political instability. Conflicts arose when a proposal was made to divide Yemen into six federal regions- Tihama, Azal, Saba, Janad, Aden and Hadhramaut. The Houthis and the Southern Separatist protested against the proposal on the grounds that it was undermining their own distinct identity and national interests.

Taking advantage of the political breakdown of the Hadi Government, groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Daesh posed a new threat in Yemen. Although the Houthis were making territorial gains, they lacked the military support. The next move of the Houthis was the twist in the entire conflict. The Houthis turned to their long-sworn enemy, Saleh, for military help knowing that Saleh still had military forces loyal to him. Saleh saw this as an opportunity to throw the Hadi Government and regain his title back. Thus, this led to the coalition of the Houthis with Saleh. The main motive was to overthrow the Yemen government which is Sunni. The coalition of the Houthis with Saleh was backed up by Iran both, militarily and financially, but Tehran denied any kind of involvement. The Houthis and Saleh believed that they were sidelined by the Yemeni government, discriminating them on the practice of Shia Islam.

In September, 2014, the Houthis took over the capital city of Yemen, Sana’a. The next target of the Houthis was Aden, where Hadi was located. On 20th January, 2015, the Houthis seized the president’s private palace and deployed armed guards around his house to keep him under a virtual house arrest. On 22nd January, Hadi resigned from his post and fled to Aden, which was declared as the temporary capital of Yemen on 21st March. The Houthis then proceeded towards South Yemen, capturing much of Aden, thus forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

The Houthis advancement was considered as an immediate threat by Saudi Arabia. This was because:

  1. Houthis were backed up and supported by Iran, both militarily and financially.
  2. Saudi Arabia and Iran shared borders.
  3. Thus, Saudi Arabia feared that sharing borders might lead to a stronger Iranian influence and control over the region.

The Saudi government responded to Hadi and formed a coalition with him which led to the Saudi Arabia intervention. On 26th March, 2015 Saudi Arabia announced that it formed a coalition and had begun military operations against the Houthi Rebels. Countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Morocco and Sudan were a part of the coalition. The main motive of the Saudi led intervention was to suppress the Houthi rebels in alliance with Saleh, restore Hadi to his former position and prevent the growth of Iranian influence in the region. The 2015 Saudi led intervention was the starting of the Civil war in Yemen. On one side, the Houthi rebels, loyalists to Saleh backed by Iran and on the other side, the Hadi government loyalists backed by the coalition of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi led intervention was supported and backed up by the United States and the United Kingdom. They provided logistical and intelligence support including the sale of weapons to coalition states and aerial refueling. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has brought more weapons from the United States than any other country. Since March, 2015, the U.S has authorized twenty-two billion worth of weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 air strikes to bring down the Houthis. More than one-third of the air strikes have targeted non-military zones like marketplaces, schools, hospitals, wedding processions and even funerals. In 2015, it created a land, sea and air barrier around Yemen which made it almost impossible for the Humanitarian aid to get in. More than 3 million people have been forced to flee from their homes and remain dislocated. 

By the end of 2017, the tables began to turn. Former president Saleh who had allied with the Houthis had officially offered to put an end to the Saudi led intervention. This was seen as a treacherous move by the Houthis. In December, 2017, the Houthis killed Saleh outside his home in Sana’a. After this incident, the Houthis were being targeted from all sides. Most of the Saleh supporters turned Anti-Houthi.

Meanwhile, the Hadi Government was battling another enemy, the Southern Transitional Council in the South who were militarily and financially backed by the United Arab Emirates. All the members of the coalition are pursuing their own agendas and each party to the conflict is said to have violated the Humanitarian and International laws. The United Nations has been investigating Saudi Arabia for having committed war crimes. Currently, President Hadi is based in Saudi Arabia but his government still operates out of Aden. The question that arises is with every one running their own agendas in the conflict, will the war in Yemen ever end.
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The Famine (2016 – Present)

The Yemen Civil War is considered as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Stepping into the fifth year of the Civil war, Yemen is just one step away from being extinct from the world map.

  • The death toll of the Yemenis touched 100,000 in the year 2019. The armed conflict location and event data reported that at least 20,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the targeted attacks in 2019. 12,000 civilians were reported to be wounded as a result of direct violence.[i]
  • There has been a continuous attack on the civilians and the civilian infrastructure. The air strikes and the bombings usually target the non-military zones like the market places, hospitals, schools, religious places etc. 3362 air strikes were conducted in 2018, out of which 420 hit residential places.[ii] The Saudi led coalition has carried out 18,000 air strikes and one third of these strikes have targeted non-military zones. In August 2018, the Saudi led air strike on a bus resulted in the death of 51 people, including 40 children.[iii] Similarly, the August 2018 air strike on Hodeida’s main public hospital resulted in a massacre killing at least 55 people and wounding 124.[iv] Around 600 civilian infrastructures are destroyed almost every month in Yemen.
  • An estimate of 240,000 civilians are already surviving in famine like conditions. For the past 5 years, people have been living in constant Their access to food, water, medicine and safety has been limited. Food security has become a serious issue. More than 20 million people wake up hungry and are food insecure.[v] In a population of 29 million, 24 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.[vi] Women and children are dying out of acute malnutrition and starvation. 1.8 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition who need desperate help.[vii] There are around 1.1 million malnourished pregnant women who are not able to breastfeed. More than 3.25 million women are subjected to severe health problems.[viii] Yemen sees the death of one child every ten minutes.
  • The economy of Yemen has shrunk dramatically. 8 out of 10 people are surviving below the poverty line. The Yemenis do not have any source of income left, with more than 600,000 jobs lost since 2015.[ix] The economy of Yemen has contracted by almost 50%.

The civilians have not received any amount of income since the past 3 years as of 2019. This leaves them below the poverty line, impoverished and malnourished not being able to cope up with the price rise.

  • The Saudi led air, sea and the land blockade in Yemen has resulted in severe lack of staple food, medicines and even fuel, almost making it impossible for the humanitarian aids to get in. Saudi Arabia bombed the vital port of Al-Hodeida and cut down Yemen’s 90% main source of food, fuel and medical shipments, leading to a mass starvation in an already impoverished country. The staple food is sold at a 30-50% higher rate than before. 19.7 million people do not have access to basic healthcare and 17.8 million people are in urgent need of water and sanitation.[x] Millions of people in Yemen are internally displaced due to the ongoing conflict. 3.3 million people are said to remain dislocated from their homes. About 60% of the entire population has been dislocated since the start of the war in 2015.[xi] 177,000 people have reportedly tried to flee abroad into their neighboring countries in search of food, shelter and better living conditions. More than 50% of the basic health care facilities had stopped functioning due to shortage of drugs, medicines, equipment, staff etc. 12 million children are in need of urgent health facility and 7 million children have dropped out of schools due to the constant destruction of infrastructures, bombings and air strikes on civilians.

The Cholera Outbreak (2016 – Present)

Hundreds and thousands of people are on the verge of death from an entirely preventable disease. The ongoing civil war of Yemen has unleashed the outbreak of Cholera, frail and weak people are battling for their lives as the disease is spreading rapidly. The Cholera outbreak in Yemen is the biggest and the worst outbreak ever recorded in the entire world. The cholera outbreak began in October 2016, with more than 1.2 million suspected cases, out of which more than 2500 death cases were reported as of October 2018.[xii] Cholera is basically a bacterium which on entering the body, causes severe vomiting and diarrhea which leads to severe deprivation of water in the body, i.e. dehydration. It is caused by the consumption of unhygienic contaminated food or water.

The suffering of the ordinary civilians is a direct consequence of the way the civil war has been fought. The major reason for the Cholera outbreak is the Saudi led intervention against the Houthi rebels. Due to the constant air strikes and bombings, more than 50% of the Yemen’s medical infrastructure had already been destroyed. The medical facilities and hospitals have stopped functioning due to the shortage of drugs, medicines, medical equipment and medical staff. Reports revealed around 30,000 medical staff have not been paid their due salaries. The remaining hospitals were so over crowded that 4 patients had to share a single bed which led to the spread of infections more easily. Hampering and destruction of infrastructure led to lack of basic amenities such as clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. Due to the bombings, the main water line and the water pumps of Yemen started malfunctioning and people had no option but to consume the faeces contaminated water. The air, sea and land blockade by the Saudi intervention made it impossible for the humanitarian aids to get in Yemen. The imports of the staple food, medicines, drugs, even fuel was limited and restricted. Almost 90% of Yemen’s food had to be imported which was now blocked. The bombing of the main seaport, Al-Hudaydah disrupted the import of the necessities and supply aids. The malnourished and the impoverished children were extremely weak, thus they were more vulnerable to the disease. Their immunity system was way too weak to fight the bacteria. Children who were born during the war, were claimed by the war. The civilians could not afford the basic needs and requirements as the prices of food, water and medicines increased surpassingly, thus making the prevention of Cholera even more difficult. The Cholera outbreak was increasingly rapidly killing one person every hour. By May 2017, 74,311 cases were suspected which included 605 deaths. UNICEF and WHO reported that cases were rising exceptionally with 5000 cases being recorded on a daily basis and by June the number rose to 200,000 which included 1300 deaths. By July, the number rose to 269,608 which included 1614 deaths.[xiii] The cases exceedingly rose to 750,000 as per September, 2017.[xiv] By the beginning of 2018, the outbreak surged up to more than 1 million cases. The Cholera situation seemed to worsen even more due to the ongoing social, economic and political crisis.

Another striking reason was the absence of Oral Cholera Vaccines. In August, 2018, almost after 16 months into the outbreak, UNICEF AND WHO delivered 5,40,000 vaccines to the civilians. As a part of humanitarian activity, WHO has helped in extending the functionality of 414 health facilities, 406 mobile health nutrition teams and opened medical facilities for delivery of children in 323 districts across Yemen.[xv] As of 2017, WHO has established 139 oral rehydration corners, helped in training 900 health workers on how to manage Cholera and distributed 1 million bags of IV fluid and 158 Cholera kits. UNICEF has distributed safe drinking water to almost 1 million people across Yemen. They reached out to the people by providing 40 tons of medical kits including medicines and Oral Rehydration Solution and Diarrhea kits. [xvi] The International Committee of Red Cross provided support to at least 17 Cholera treatment centres and forwarded several engineers to restore and repair the water supply systems in the country. But nonetheless, as of December 2019, an overall of 2,188,503 total Cholera cases with 3750 deaths had been reported since the outbreak in 2017[xvii], making it the world’s worst Cholera Epidemic.
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The Coronavirus Outbreak

As the people of Yemen are struggling to survive in the midst of an ongoing war, famine and a cholera epidemic, the outbreak of coronavirus has proved to be a catastrophe. According to a UN commissioned report, the death toll from coronavirus could exceed the combined death toll of the war, famine and disease over the last five years which could be over 230,000 deaths in the country.[xviii]

As of June 17th, Yemen officially reported 902 cases, 244 deaths and 271 people have recovered. Yemen’s Saudi led government has accused the Houthis of covering up the cases in northern Yemen as the cases go seriously under reported.[xix] More than 800 people have died in Aden, the temporary capital of Yemen with symptoms similar to coronavirus. Yemen’s fragile health care system is adding more to the devastation. The virus is spreading with full force with no capacity to resist it.

One of the major concerns is that people are experiencing multiple diseases all at one time. Once they are diagnosed with some other kind of sickness, they are not tested for Covid-19 even though they have the symptoms. This makes them more vulnerable and prone to the virus. The war has destroyed more than 50% of the country’s medical facilities. 20% of the country’s 333 districts are dysfunctional and have no medical doctors and staff.[xx] Remaining doctors fear to work in the hospitals as there is no protection available. As of now, the country has only 500 ventilators and 700 ICUs for the entire population. More than 30 out of 41 UN health programmes will be shutting down in Yemen due to the lack of outside funding. The community transmission is unbounded and uncontrolled. As of May 30th, out of the total population of 29 million Yemenis, only 2678 people had been tested. There is only one oxygen cylinder available for every 2.5 million people in Yemen. Without the availability of PPE kits, medicines, drugs, medical staff and doctors, the situation is only getting out of hand. The WHO model reveals that half of the population could get infected and 40,000 people could die, considering the current scenario.[xxi]


Millions of Yemenis have been suffering since 26th March, 2015, now the situation has gotten even more complex and tragic. The entire country is on the brink of extinction from the world map. The Saudi Arabia blockade, supported by the US, UK and EU has deprived the population of food, water, medicines and essential humanitarian aid. People are trapped in a country which is full of violence, destruction and disease. Yemeni men, women and children are gripped by one of the worst humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people wake up hungry, with no food and water. More than 2 million children, who are under the age of 5 are acutely impoverished and malnourished. The civil war has claimed the life of over 85,000 children already. For young babies and kids, the level of hunger is incredibly high, making them extremely vulnerable and weak. Families have nothing to eat, but leaves. People are being robbed of their basic right to food, water, shelter and education, even being able to wash hands with water is considered as a luxury for the people. The severe depletion of food and water has left the Yemenis with nothing, but sorrow and grief. While the country is battling through the worst of the times, the rest of the world is silent. It seems like the world has left Yemen to die. The famine is sweeping away Yemen and soon the country will be no more. Yemen needs more awareness, more attention, more help, above all Yemen needs us.



[i] Taken from The Guardian, Death toll reaches 100,000 in Yemen, (31st October, 2019).

[ii] Taken from Norwegian Refugee Council,, why is Yemen world’s worst humanitarian crisis, (22nd February, 2019).

[iii] Taken from the British Broadcasting Corporation News,, Saudi led coalition admits mistakes in deadly bus strike, (1st September, 2018).

[iv], Dozens killed in Saudi air raids on Hodeida’s main hospital, (3rd August, 2018).

[v] As per Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nation (FOA),

[vi] Taken from Norwegian Refugee Council,, why is Yemen world’s worst humanitarian crisis, (22nd February, 2019).

[vii] Taken from Care Organization,, Crisis in Yemen.

[viii] Taken from Care Organization,, Crisis in Yemen.

[ix] Taken from Norwegian Refugee Council,, why is Yemen world’s worst humanitarian crisis, (22nd February, 2019).

[x] From, overview of Complex crisis of Yemen.

[xi] Taken from Norwegian Refugee Council,, why is Yemen world’s worst humanitarian crisis, (22nd February, 2019).

[xii] Taken from Wikipedia, Yemen Cholera Outbreak, 2016 – 2020,

[xiii] Taken from Wikipedia, Yemen Cholera Outbreak, 2016 – 2020,

[xiv], Outbreak Observatory, largest outbreak on record continues, (January 16, 2020).

[xv] Taken from BMC Public Health,, (4th December, 2018).

[xvi] Taken from BMC Public Health,, (4th December, 2018).

[xvii], Outbreak Observatory, largest outbreak on record continues, (January 16, 2020).

[xviii] Taken from Brookings,, Yemen and Coronavirus, (June 15th, 2020)

[xix] Taken from Brookings,, Yemen and Coronavirus, (June 15th, 2020)

[xx] Taken from Brookings,, Yemen and Coronavirus, (June 15th, 2020)

[xxi] Taken from Deccan Chronicle,, (May 16th, 2020)

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