Insights into Editorial: Ripe for intervention
Yemen was already reeling from a humanitarian catastrophe when Saudi Arabia imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the country earlier this month. The poorest Arab nation has now plunged into further crisis, with the UN warning of “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades” there if the blockade is not lifted.
Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.
The conflict and a blockade imposed by the coalition have also left 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and created the world’s largest food security emergency.
How did the war start?
The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an uprising that forced its long time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to Mr Hadi, his deputy, in 2011.
Mr Hadi struggled to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many military officers to Mr Saleh, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
The Houthi movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and fought a series of rebellions against Mr Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of the new president’s weakness by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and neighbouring areas.
Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government. The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
Present crisis in Yemen could Cause ‘Catastrophic’ Famine
The Saudis say the blockade, imposed after a long-range missile from Yemen was intercepted near Riyadh airport on November 4, was aimed at preventing the Houthi rebels from smuggling in weaponry.
- But in effect, Riyadh is starving millions of people who are already dependent on international aid for food and drugs.
- For almost three years, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen with impunity.
- King Salman launched the war with the aim of defeating the Houthis, who the Saudis see as Iranian proxies. The U.S. offered support for the Saudi campaign.
- Now the war has entered a stalemate, with the Saudis seeing no face-saving exit.
- More than 10,000 people have been killed in the Saudi bombing, and many more injured and displaced. The country doesn’t have a functional government.
- Large parts, including Sanaa, the capital city, are controlled by the Houthis, while the Saudi-backed government is operating from Aden, a southern city. Al-Qaeda has become stronger in the chaos triggered by the war.
Never-ending bombing and the failure to provide basic services have resulted in a food crisis and a medical emergency.
- At present, 17 million people in Yemen are dependent on external aid for survival.
- The country has also seen a cholera outbreak.
- Despite the terrible consequences of its actions, Saudi Arabia has not halted bombing.
- There has been no meaningful effort from the international community to put pressure on Riyadh to end the war either.
Regional power play
The problem is that Saudi Arabia and its allies look at Yemen as a theatre for regional power play. The Saudis don’t want the Houthis to control the country as they fear it would extend Iran’s influence right to its backyard.
But Saudi Arabia lacks the strategic depth and resources to shape Yemen’s future and yet, driven by geopolitical ambitions, it is resorting to excessive use of air power. But that is not enough to defeat the Houthis, who have the support of both the country’s Shia community and the loyalists of the deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
As a result, the Houthis still remain powerful even as Saudi Arabia continues to attack Yemen’s cities. From the blockade, it is evident that Saudi Arabia will not wind down this war.
What is the international community saying?
Eighteen humanitarian agencies penned a joint letter condemning the closure and demanding that humanitarian operations are allowed to resume immediately.
The group also requested clarity on how long the blockade was intended to be in place; right now it appears indefinite and no aid has entered the country for days.
The Need of the hour
Access for humanitarian personnel and cargo into Yemen is essential to deliver desperately needed assistance to a population already severely affected by more than two and a half years of conflict.
A spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called the blockade “catastrophic,” warning that millions of people are only being kept alive by humanitarian assistance, which has suddenly vanished.
It is absolutely essential that the operation of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) be allowed to continue unhindered.
UN and other international bodies should deal with Saudi Arabia in the way aggressor nations are dealt with and bring some real pressure on the kingdom to end this brutal war.