The Yemen Crisis: What is the Human Cost?

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Emily Murphy

1st July 2020


The Yemenis humanitarian crisis began in 2011 when revolutionary forces saw Ali Abdullah Saleh resign as president after 33 years in power. The transition of leadership from the former authoritarian president to his deputy was supposed to signal a turning point and the new era, in the country’s history, and it did, just not in the way anyone expected.


When Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi became president, it was expected that he would bring stability to a country that was still recovering from the Arab Spring uprising. Yet as food insecurity, mass unemployment, and jihadists attacks were an ever-present reality, it quickly became apparent that the issues which plagued Yemen were beyond Hadi’s control. Mr Hadi was subsequently exiled from Yemen in 2014 after Houthi Shia Muslim rebels took control of Saada and later the capital city. As the conflict raged on, the citizens of Yemen paid the price and continue to suffer as the crisis worsened.


While mainstream media outlets have scarcely reported on the crisis over the past few years, Yemen has become a global talking point in recent weeks. As the COVID-19 virus continues to claim hundreds of lives, respecting no borders and leaving no one untouched, it seems even Yemen must share in the global tragedy. The Yemenis people have among the lowest coronavirus immunity levels, but why is that?


While international governments continue to try forcibly destroy and disband the rebels and form a government in the country, Yemen slips further into disarray. Since fighting broke out in 2014, more than one million people have become internally displaced. While this has some notable and immediate effects such as increased homelessness, the erection of shantytowns and mass migration to cities less impacted by the war, it is the less obvious and slightly more delayed consequences that pose the greatest danger. As slum cities grow, they quickly begin draining the resources of the local area: poor sanitation and lack of adequate drainage increase the prevalence of waterborne diseases like cholera. As medical resources and treatments are rapidly used up, widespread illness becomes inevitable. The sudden arrival of large numbers of people strains food supply chains. As food becomes more scarce and immune systems weaken, sickness escalates. It is a vicious cycle, heart-wrenching to watch, and without the help of international emergency aid, it is almost impossible to solve. These are a tiny sample of the issues facing the Yemenis people, while the UN describes the crisis as” the worst in the world”, the question of what can be done hangs heavy.


“The UN suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death”

In 2019 the UN released the’ 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen report’. Among other things, the paper estimated 3.2 million people were suffering from acute malnutrition. 360,000 of those are thought to be children under 5, and 1 million pregnant or lactating women. Data from the UN also suggests that 20 million people are food insecure, with 250,000 at risk of starving to death.


During such catastrophic times, it is effortless to see rights violations of those who have been displaced or who are starving. However, the violation of some children’s rights is often less visible. According to Human Rights Watch and a 2019 report from the’ UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen’, all parties involved in the conflict have used child soldiers at some point since September 2014, some of whom were under the age of 15. The secretary-general has put the number of recruited child soldiers at 3034. In 2018 the’ list of shame’ for violations against children in the armed conflict put the death toll 1185 children. While the conflict continues, this figure is unfortunately destined to rise.


As the rest of the world has put most of the time, money and resources into fighting COVID-19 in their home countries, donations to UN agencies are becoming scarce. As a result, it is becoming more difficult to carry out relief work. Yemen reported its first coronavirus case on 10 April. According to Abdul Rahman Al-Azraqi, a physician in Taiz,” many people are going about their lives unaware of danger”. Aid workers have had to turn people away, as they lack sufficient medical oxygen or even personal protective equipment. Reports continue to spread, suggesting that the Yemenis health system has all but collapsed, under the strain of the war and now the virus. While some figures of infections and deaths have been released, they remain on the low end of the spectrum and are not predicted to be very reliable, especially considering the reports that many mass graves have been dug.


The past decade has marked enormous change and turbulence for the Yemenis people. Homes and villages have been abandoned, and many in the country can barely remember a time before the conflict. The humanitarian crisis has altered the country in a way that will never be forgotten. However, as we progress into the future, new struggles face us all, those less fortunate will continue to need the help and compassion of those who are lucky enough to escape relatively unscathed. 




Featured photo by Rod Waddington



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