It's the world's worst humanitarian disaster—and the involvement of a dozen other nations is not helpfulby Iona Craig / December 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Driving through the monotonous desert that connects Yemen’s eastern provinces to the country’s northern highlands, the only break in the road as it heads towards a liquefied mirage are rusting oil barrels and makeshift wooden huts that mark the regular checkpoints dotted along the tarmac. Fuel tankers, food trucks and cement lorries pause as drivers hand bundles of green and yellow Yemeni rial notes out of their windows to scruffy soldiers. While government employees, from medical practitioners to street cleaners, continue their wait of more than a year for unpaid salaries, and while millions face starvation, these wads of cash fuel a war economy that is proving highly lucrative for some.
This war is at once head-spinningly complex in its causes and brutally simple in its human consequences. It began in September 2014 after so-called “Houthi” rebels, allied with Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital, Sana’a. Saleh’s successor, President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Saudi Arabia six months later. The Saudis then intervened on Hadi’s behalf, beginning daily bombing raids and leading a multinational coalition of forces. By the end of 2016 it had cost a conservatively estimated 10,000 civilian lives, and forced some three million people to flee their homes. It is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—worse even than Syria.
After the twists and turns of the near three-year-long war, on 5th December the wily former president, Saleh, became one of the victims of a conflict he had masterminded. He was killed by Houthis just days after splitting from the movement.
This is a war of unstable alliances on the ground, and also one that involves an extraordinary range of nations and nationalities. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition includes Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and, until a recent diplomatic spat, Qatar. Sudan, Senegal and Eritrea are also involved—Sudan has supplied the infamous Janjaweed militia, notorious for ethnic cleansing in Darfur. They are supporting thousands of Yemeni ground troops trained in Saudi, Eritrea and the UAE.