3 Years of Crisis: Why Are We So Ignorant to What’s Happening in Yemen?
On March 26, the Yemen war entered its fourth year, and the crisis is yet another bleak reminder of inhumanity in modern history. The significant civilian losses, which have reached over 10,000, have gone unnoticed by global media, especially by those in the US . Most news outlets provide sporadic updates, but the coverage lacks consistent and sufficient information about the catastrophes that Yemenis have gone through over the last three years.
Like the Syrian Civil war, and the recent political tensions in Lebanon, Yemen has suffered due to the increased rivalry between the regional hegemons: Saudi Arabia and Iran. Conflicting ideologies and religious affiliations have bolstered tensions between the great regional powers for decades, but the recent power vacuums in many neighboring countries have only heightened the stakes, and in turn, events in the region have developed in a concerning manner.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman. Prior to the war, Yemen’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was estimated around $1309.23 USD. The extremely low GDP fell even lower during the war to $990.33 USD. The economic situation, along with the political turmoil, has increased the percentage of civilians reliant on humanitarian aid to 76 percent. The International Rescue Committee reported that one out of five children die in Yemen from preventable causes. Yemen has also experienced the world’s most horrifying outbreak of cholera and famine in recent history. The United Nations (UN) issued a statement that the Yemen civil war is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, yet not much has been done to alleviate the situation.
Yemen suffers from a troubling past which includes many military coups, assassinations, and a brutal civil war that ended in the 1990s. Since then, Yemen has been one of the most unstable countries in the Middle East with a flourishing presence of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda. However, the country remained under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s control, a dictator who ruled Yemen with an iron fist for over twenty years. The current political turmoil started out with the “Arab Spring” protests which eventually overthrew him. Saleh's removal from power created a political vacuum and the country was unable to successfully transition into a democracy. His vice president took over, but was unable to control the country efficiently. Rebel movements with initial support from Saleh’s government reemerged, allowing Al-Houthis, who are Shia’a tribal rebels from the north, to expand their power and take over large areas in the northern part of the country in 2012. Eventually, the government collapsed with the new president escaping the country in 2014.
The gained power of Al-Houthis alarmed Saudi Arabia and they, along with other Arab countries, became militarily involved to restore the Hadi government with no success. On the other hand, Iran allegedly supported Al-Houthis' militarily as the civil war intensified and they become more dependent on their support. Thus, the civil war escalated to include mainly two sides: Saudi Arabia which supports al-Hadi's government and Al-Houthis' which is largely financed by Iran.
The conflict, however, should not be reduced to regional tensions. The US, which supports Saudi Arabia’s horrifying military attacks against the civilian population has been directly involved in the humanitarian crisis. The US government has provided arms to Saudi Arabia and have profited from the current conflict. The media has prioritized reporting on issues regarding Mr. Trump, his tweets, his policies, and the Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. Meanwhile, the war crimes in Yemen are barely talked about -- and if they are mentioned, the US’s role in the crisis is greatly undermined. 60 Minutes recently aired a report on the Yemen civil war that completely avoided the US’s rule in the situation, making it sound like it was a regional issue. The US’s involvement is not a “consequence” of the Trump administration and is not new in any way. In fact, it started under President Obama, who under reservation, chose to support the war as an attempt to maintain Saudi Arabia as an ally. The US provided logistical and arms support, which in turn, has allowed Saudi Arabia to engage in “their destructive campaign”, which has included over 16,000 airstrikes.
Unfortunately, it seems that the US will continue its support of Saudi Arabia, even with the presence of ethical and humanitarian concerns. It has been an active participant in the Yemen’s civil war and it does not seem like it is going to be changing its course of action anytime soon. However, while the US’s course of action fits into the wider narrative of previous foreign affairs, it is important that the news media expands their efforts to uphold journalistic principles and report the story of Yemen with all its terrifying dimensions.