What's the U.S. Role in the Dire Situation in Yemen?
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by Causes | 6.19.18
The unfolding disaster in Yemen is "the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time," according to a U.N. aid office.
And it's only getting worse.
Here's a quick primer to get you up to speed on this critical situation, and an explanation of the U.S. government role in it.
How bad is it?
The Washington Post provides a brief rundown of the grisly situation:
- More than 15,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured by sniping, shelling, and airstrikes since March 2015.
- But the bombs and gunfire aren’t the biggest danger. A Saudi-led blockade has collapsed infrastructure, leading to shortages of nearly everything, especially food and medicine.
- Some 8 million people are on the brink of famine, and more than 1 million have been infected in the fastest growing cholera epidemic ever recorded.
- Save the Children estimates that around 50,000 Yemeni children died of starvation, malnutrition, or disease last year alone.
Why is this happening?
The conflict is essentially between the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government and the Shiite Houthi rebels from the north of the country. (Sunnis and Shia are two sects of Islam.)
It has taken on broader significance as a proxy struggle for Middle East dominance between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, which has backed the Yemeni government, and its arch-rival, Shiite-majority Iran, which has aligned itself with the Houthi rebels.
Why so much hunger and disease?
Yemen was already struggling to feed itself before this conflict broke out. The country has very limited fresh water sources to support crops, and what water it does have is under increasing strain from a growing population and the effects of climate change. In the current conflict, both sides have attacked the other’s access to water.
Exacerbating matters, much of Yemen’s agricultural production is dedicated to more profitable narcotics. As such, the country is heavily reliant on food imports that arrive through ports, predominantly in the Houthi-controlled north.
The Saudi-led coalition has blockaded the northern ports, while the Houthis tax goods passing through their territory.
Limited access to sanitation and drinking water creates conditions under which cholera spreads freely.
This week, the United Arab Emirates – who are aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government – began a heavy offensive on Yemen’s northern port city of Hodeida, which has been described as “the lifeline of the country.”
If the struggle for Hodeida becomes a protracted siege, experts expect a catastrophe, with some predicting as many as 250,000 civilian casualties.
Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally. The United States has been providing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and munitions, and refueling its aircraft.
Furthermore, the Washington Post reports:
“The Emirati-led ground offensive on Hodeida began in earnest only after the coalition appeared to get the tacit backing of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. While U.S. officials are at pains to stress they are not party to the conflict, the Trump administration’s top diplomat made a Monday statement on Hodeida that, despite notes of caution, did not warn against attacking the city.”
Good guys, bad guys?
As is so often the case, opinions vary greatly as to who is in the right and who is in the wrong in this conflict.
Some say that the Houthis enjoy popular support as they battle old regime forces and pursue a federal state based on democratic principles, political pluralism, religious freedom, and balance of powers.
Others say the Houthis aim to reinstate a theocracy in Yemen. These detractors wish to see the Houthis form a political party, which they believe would indicate the Houthis’ commitment to a peaceful competition.
What do you think?
What, if anything, should the U.S. government do to head off the worst humanitarian crisis of our time? Hit Take Action, then share your thoughts below.
—Sara E. Murphy
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