The conflict in Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and it is being funded by the United States. In March 2015, an international coalition of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened against the Houthi rebels in accordance with the Yemeni President. In the years since the coalition began, air strikes, blockades, and funneled weapons from global superpowers has led to 22.2 million out of 29 million Yemenis in need of medical assistance. This crisis is not only leaving millions of civilians vulnerable to violence, but it is violating international humanitarian law.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and now it is a battleground for competing countries to exact military and global dominance. Naval operations blockades have been set up on all ports in the Houthi-controlled northern area, which is where 80% of Yemen’s imports are delivered. The Saudi-coalition’s defense for this blockade is that they are attempting to block the funneling of arms from Iran to the rebels and that this depreciation in resources will cause the rebels to retreat and order to be restored. The reality is much more complicated.
From May to August of last year, commercial imports fell 30%, leading to depreciation in national currency and putting millions out of a job. Most Yemenis people have not worked for full pay in two years. Every 99 minutes, an air strike occurs, and every 10 minutes a child dies from war-related causes. These airstrikes have hit residential areas, marketplaces, civilian boats, as well as medical, educational, cultural, and religious sites. The dismembering of the country has left 2 million people internally displaced, 2 million children without education, and 16 million with a lack of access to basic health care. With so many fallouts of the blockades, one must question the legality of this blockade and how it is tolerated by the world powers.
Until recently, many world powers supported the Saudi-coalition in Yemen. The rebels are members of a Shiite Muslim tribe, and with the support of Iran, they are creating political distress in the Middle East. With the presence of terrorist groups in Yemen, as well as the Houthi rebels, superpowers like the US and UK have sided with the perceived antagonists of the free world: Saudi Arabia. However, on December 18th, 2018 the US symbolically withdrew from the coalition in response to the killing of the dissident columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in a Senate vote of 56 to 41. Their plan is to formally address the possibility of sanctions and the cutting off of arms sales in the new year.
When international laws are violated, civilians suffer. In such a poor and geographically compromised area, Yemen’s civilians have faced their biggest enemy: starvation. With the naval blockades and the government of Yemen’s disregard for civilian life, millions are left to rely on international relief organizations. An estimated 8.4 million people are severely food insecure with 12-13 million at risk of starvation.
According to the UN, “over 150 relief organizations, including eight UN agencies, are working around the clock to provide food, shelter, nutritional assistance, protection services and much more to millions of Yemenis whose lives have been uprooted by the conflict.” However, these organizations are faced with dozens of impediments, including collapsing health facilities, access to water, and sanitation services. They are even being prohibited from shipping medicine to the country by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The countries of the world cannot tolerate this violence any longer. To do so would not only break international humanitarian laws but would enable such egregious crimes to take place in the future. The Senate needs to make a formal decision about our nation’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi sparked something in the US government, and the spark must lead to a flame of change if there is any hope of ending the crisis in Yemen.