An estimated number form United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2015 in Yemen 15.9 million people, which represents 61% of the country’s population, requires some kind of humanitarian assistance.
Of them 10.6 million is facing food insecurity, 13.4 million does not have access to safe water or adequate sanitation, and another 8.4 million are without access to health care. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate as conflict spreads further throughout the country. Based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 18 out of 22 governorates have been affected so far. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (iDMC) report in January this year showed that 257.645 refugees were registered in Yemen and 334.100 were internal displaced persons (IDPs). A humanitarian crisis is nothing new in Yemen. The country had through history faced poverty, malnutrition, economic crisis, and a lot of people without access to clean water. Now with the fighting and escalation of tensions shortages of food, clean water, medical supplies, and petrol are becoming even greater. A lot of different problems are arising in the poorest country in the Arab world. As already mentioned country faces limited natural fresh water resources, inadequate supplies of portable water, food scarcity, soil erosion and desertification. Lack of water poses a high degree of possibilities for major infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria and othersbased on reports from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The roots of the conflict are going back to the Arab spring in 2011. Public demonstrations have resulted in President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down in exchange for unity. The last three years his deputy was in charge, but was unable to bring different groups to come together. What we have seen is slow motions of collapse. The prime minister and his cabinet resigned and then President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had no other option but to step down too. In Yemen there is no longer a government or a president that would have the situation in the country under control. Empty space creates huge blank space for powerful and smart groups to take power, like Houthis and Al Qaida. In a country where most population is Muslim religion (99.1%), 65% are Sunni and 35% are Shia, future, peace and stability is in question.
Yemen is of international strategic importance because of Bab El Mandeb Strain. It connects the Red sea to the Gulf of Aden. It is a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, via the Red sea and the Suez Canal. It has important economic role because it represents a route for Persian Gulf oil, natural gas, petroleum and other product shipment to Europe and North America, as well as European and North African oil exports to Asia. Estimated 20.000 ships annually pass through. Beside strategic and geopolitics importance Yemen is also home to many Western intelligence analysts. We must not forget that the United States of America (USA) has for many years led drone attacks from Yemen with President Hadi permission. The US has carried out more than 100 drone strikes against militants in Yemen since 2002, including 23 last year. Yemen is home to what Western intelligence analysts consider to be the most dangerous franchise of al-Qaeda. AQAP stands for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance formed in 2009 between violent Yemeni and Saudi Islamists.
There are several key players important to understand the crisis. First to mention are Houthi rebels, a minority Shia Muslim group from the northern part of Yemen. They are insurgent group that last September seized the capital Sanaa. First, they called for more pluralist government, since the group was so far not represented, but within months they forced the resignation of the president. They have gained control over some of northwest part of the country. The Houthis are allegedly supported by Iran. They have been at war with Al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamists for most of a decade.
That brings us to two further key players AQAP and ISIS that are both active in the Arab peninsula. AQAP was targeting Houthis locations and has so far detonated many suicide vehicle-borne improvised devices. AQAO is allying with local tribes in Yemen and the military does not appear to be able to combat its expanding presence. They are both determined to fight Houthis and other groups and take advantage of the state’s collapse to claim territory.
Fourth and fifth important actors to mention are president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and formal president Saleh.As already pointed out formal president Saleh was driven from power in Arab spring. It seems he maintained the loyalty of the military and has alleged himself with the Houthis. News that he may be distancing himself from the Houthis and try to negotiate with Saudi Arabia would significantly undermine Houthis ability to hold seized territory and open the way to Houthis losing support from allied military units. After Saleh, Hadi has elevated to power in 2012 and left as the fighting started to the city called Aden and then fled further to Saudi Arabia.Yemen’s security forces have split loyalties, with some units backing Hadi, and others the Houthis and Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has remained politically influential.
Further key players in Yemen are Iran, Saudi Arabia and USA. Iran is leading Shia country and provides support for other Shia groups in the Middle East. Iran supports Houthis, but has so far denied any involvement in Yemen. On the other side is Sunni leading power Saudi Arabia, which has a long history of involvement in Yemen. Last year the Saudis declared Houthis militias as a terrorist organization. The Saudis have lead efforts to isolate the Houthis diplomatically, economically and now also military since they have in support of president Hadi carried out a coalition that led air strikes against Houthi movement. A coalition was formed with UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan joined the Kingdom to form a united force to crush the rebellion. A lot of accusations have been made that Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a proxy war. Yemen is divided between the Houthi movement and the anti-Houthi coalitions backed by Western and Gulf Cooperation Council allied with president Hadi support. Situation is much more complex than just Houthi versus Hadi. Houthis have cooperated with Saleh, but they have also fought six wars against each other. Neither trusts each other. There are also divisions inside so called anti-Houthi bloc. Another problem is also Southern separatism in the south of the country. No end of problems is seen also because of the overlap of geographic and religious divisions that further amplifies and complicates the conflict.
Some needs of Yemeni people relate to conflict, but others are due to long-standing underdevelopment and lack of investment in basic social infrastructure and services, poor governance, widespread poverty, corruption and lack of access to income. The possibility of conflict slip over is possible. There are also growing risks of terrorism and destabilization in the region. In a complex crisis sophisticated solutions need to be found, but so far it looks like everyone is doing things for their benefit not for the benefit of Yemen people and their peace and security. Without minimum consensus within and beyond Yemen borders the country is headed for protracted violence on multiple fronts. Proxy wars, state collapse, sectarian violence and militia rule can result in a situation where nobody can win and will only benefit those who prosper from chaos.